The easy work is reconfiguring office space for Department of Education employees. It will be harder to bridge the partisan divide as the only Democratic statewide office holder amid a Republican-controlled legislative and executive branch.
On Tuesday, Ritz met with Gov. Mike Pence in a private meeting lasting almost an hour in her office. Pence called it a good discussion, noting his interest in expanding educational choice opportunities for underprivileged kids.
“And as the superintendent and I just discussed, we’re both very enthusiastic about expanding career and vocational opportunities for all of our kids around Indiana at the high school level,” he said.
Pence has been welcoming to Ritz during her first days in office, and initial talk by lawmakers about making her post an appointed position has receded. In fact, Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, announced last week that he would not entertain bills to reduce the power of Ritz’s office.
The House has made no similar promise, and several bills are filed to lessen her authority on key education boards.
And the transition for the Department of Education has already experienced some problems.
Department of Education Communications Director David Galvin issued a memo last Friday to all newspapers that the annual performance reports on Indiana schools won’t be ready to publish until late March.
He said the delay was caused in part by the department’s receiving late information, but he also acknowledged a high learning curve.
Galvin said Ritz this week had her first meeting with the entire Department of Education staff, which he said has only a few positions left to fill. The most important remaining vacancies are for an assistant superintendent and an executive director of operations.
Galvin said the upper echelon of management departed, with only a few taking the opportunity to apply for other positions within the department.
Overall, he said, about 80 percent of the staff stayed on from the Republican administration of Tony Bennett. But a few departments – including communications and turnaround schools – lost virtually everyone.
He also said Ritz is working on creating outreach coordinators for schools around the state, who would work at regional educational service centers.