One of the more controversial education bills moving through the General Assembly this session is Senate Bill 1, which changes the State Board of Education, including removing the state superintendent as the chair.
After passing both the House and Senate, the bill will likely go to conference committee before being signed into law by the governor, so we at StateImpact thought it would be a good time to review what the chair of the SBOE does and how this bill would change the current board.
The Current State Board of Education
Current law allows for 11 board members, which includes the elected state superintendent and ten other members the governor appoints. Four of those members must currently work as educators and have a teaching license. And most important, the law says the state superintendent serves as the chair of the board.
The chair runs the meetings, calls on people to speak, calls for votes on motions, and sets the agenda. It’s very much an administrative role for the group, but it’s these duties that state superintendent Glenda Ritz performs that have started so much conflict with the current board.
Ever since she took office, we’ve seen Ritz and the other board members disagree on when an agenda was set or what was on the agenda. They often argue about communication between the two entities, because Ritz and the Department of Education have a separate staff from the state board members. Board member Brad Oliver has been very vocal about the issues he has with how Ritz currently runs the board.
“The thing that I’ve not been accustomed to is in most boards I’m on, the chair will go out of their way to make contact with individual board members to cultivate those relationships, to sit down periodically and talk about what is coming before the board typically,” Oliver says. “For reasons that are well documented, when CECI was created and other things that happened, we’ve gone further away from that. There’s very little communication between the chair and individual board members.”
Senate Bill 1 is the legislature’s attempt to address these issues.
How Senate Bill 1 Changes The SBOE
The main thing is the state superintendent would not serve as the board’s chair; the board would elect its own. As it stands right now after leaving the House, there would be 13 members, which means adding two more than currently serve, and giving the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem each one appointee.
This probably won’t be the final version of the bill though. SB1’s original author, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, will determine what to do with the bill now. He has said that he doesn’t like the House’s amendments, and he still wants to work some things out before it’s sent to the governor. He’s said he wants it to return to how it was when it left the Senate, with appointments split between the governor and other leaders.
Since all versions would allow the board to elect its own chair, it’s almost certain that if this bill is signed by the governor, state superintendent Glenda Ritz will no longer be chair.
If passed, Ritz would still be in charge of the Department of Education and serve on the board, she just wouldn’t be in charge of board meetings.
Response From Board Members and Ritz Voters
Brad Oliver seems optimistic about relationships on the board improving if they choose their own chair, but other changes worry him.
“I’m also concerned because the reconstitution of the board could mean new board members and I can tell you there’s a learning curve to serving on the state board. It is a lot of different topics, a lot of different issues,” Oliver says.
Ritz supporters and other Democrats in the legislature have been vocal all along that having this change go into effect in the middle of Ritz’s term undermines their vote, because when she was elected it was under the assumption she would serve as chair We could possibly see backlash toward the governor and other Republicans because of this during the 2016 election. If you remember, during the 2012 election when Ritz first ran, she rallied a lot of support from teachers and ended up receiving more votes than the governor. This could add fuel to the fire for the reelection campaign.