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State education board gets five new members

Two divisive members won't be back

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By Katie Stancombe

The State Board of Education will have five new members when it goes back to work in June – the result of an overhaul ordered by the General Assembly.

The new board will be without some of its most divisive figures from the past two years – including Marian University President Dan Elsener, who asked not to be reappointed, and Brad Oliver, who is considering a run for state superintendent.

But five existing members will remain: David Freitas of Granger, Cari Whicker of Uniondale, Sarah O’Brien of Avon, Gordon Hendry of Indianapolis and BJ Watts of Evansville.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz remains on the board.

Gov. Mike Pence called the board makeover a “fresh start.”

The changes come after two years of often partisan wrangling between Ritz, a Democrat, and the other board members, who were all appointed by Pence, a Republican. The fighting has occurred over seemingly simple issues, such as who sets the agenda for state board meetings, and more complex issues, including how to how old schools accountable for failing grades.

That led lawmakers to order changes meant to address what they repeatedly called a “dysfunctional” situation. The law stripped two of the board’s 10 appointments away from the governor and gave them to legislative leaders. The law keeps Ritz on the board, where she serves as the chair. In two years, though, the law will let the board choose its own chair.

All the new appointments came on Wednesday.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, appointed retired school superintendent Steve Yager to serve on the board while Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, appointed Byron Earnest, head of Schools for Hoosier Academics.

Both Yager and Ernest will serve as the legislators’ voice on the state board.

Newly appointed members chosen by Pence include Eddie Melton, manager of federal governmental relations and community relations at Northern Indiana Public Service Company; Vince Bertram, president and chief executive officer of Project Lead The Way; and Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, assistant superintendent for school improvement at Warren Township Schools in Indianapolis.

Pence sought legislation to have Ritz removed as the automatic chair of the board. But lawmakers – who repeatedly declared the current board dysfunctional – settled on a bill that changes the board makeup and lets the group elect its own chair but not until after the 2016 election.

Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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