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Douglas folds — again — in firing showdown

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Douglas folds — again — in firing showdown

  • Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, in red, talks with a reporter last month during her visit to the State Capitol to deliver her State of Education address.
    Samantha Shotzbarger/Cronkite News Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, in red, talks with a reporter last month during her visit to the State Capitol to deliver her State of Education address.

Arizona schools chief Diane Douglas on Tuesday again called for an end to a "distraction" of her own making, as she said the Legislature and courts should decide who has the power to fire employees of the State Board of Education.

Douglas, narrowly elected Arizona's superintendent of public instruction in November, attempted to oust the top two staffers of the independent agency, a move opposed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

"The superintendent said she sees no reason to escalate the current situation by excluding people from access to the Department of Education building even though the action of the Board of Education was clearly outside of its authority," spokeswoman Sally Stewart said in a press release Tuesday.

"The superintendent said she would like to resolve this issue as quickly as possible so it is no longer a distraction," Stewart wrote.

Douglas dismissed Christine Thompson, the education board's executive director, and Sabrina Vazquez, the assistant executive director. Thompson was escorted from her office by Department of Public Safety officers last Wednesday.

Ducey said that Douglas does not have the legal authority to fire the top staff of the state board.

The pair reportedly returned to work Tuesday, as state offices reopened after the Presidents Day break.

Late last week, Douglas dialed back her rhetoric and called for new legislation to clarify who employees of the State Board of Education work for. She had clashed with Ducey after he said she did not have the power to fire the two employees.

Thursday, the superintendent of public instruction railed at Ducey. Friday, she summoned the press on just 30 minutes notice and released a statement about her "her desire to clarify that the Arizona State Board of Education staff is under the administrative supervision" of the 11-member board.

"“I do not wish to spend vital tax dollars in a dispute over who is responsible for the various operations of the Board of Education. Those resources are better spent on classroom instruction," she said.

State law "has their staff reporting to the Department of Education, and specifically to the superintendent. This ambiguity has created an unnecessary conflict between three public bodies that are all dedicated to serving children," she said.

She may have run a quiet election campaign, but Douglas quickly became embroiled in a very public dispute with Ducey over who hires and fires the employees of the board.

The two are both be Republicans, but there has been little intra-party restraint between the two in recent days.

Thursday, Douglas said that Ducey "has spent so much time discussing the plain meaning of ‘or vs. and’ as a justification to deprive schools of hundreds of millions of dollars to give to his corporate cronies as tax cuts..."

The staff of the 11-member state board, of which Douglas is a member along with appointees of the governor, has continued to work on plans to roll out Arizona's implementation of Common Core testing, AzMERIT, which will measure student achievement according to the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.

Douglas ran on a platform opposing the Common Core standards.

Friday, she said, "We do not want current staff, and the two who are limbo, to continue to experience stress as a result of dual roles between the board and the department."

"The sooner such legislation is passed, the sooner staff caught in the middle can return to normal operations, and this unnecessary conflict can be resolved without further cost to the taxpayer," she said.

Ducey wasn't the only one calling Douglas' firing of the staffers improper. The president of the state board, Greg Miller, objected to her Douglas.

The body operates independently of the state superintendent of public instruction's office, with members serving four-year terms.

Ducey said the Douglas acted beyond her authority, and offered office space to the pair while the issue is hashed out.

Ducey endorsed Douglas during the election, and the two joined other statewide Republican candidates in running as a slate.

Thursday, Douglas railed at Ducey, saying he "has refused to take calls or meetings with me personally since his swearing in."

"It is no surprise that his office supports retaining two liberal staff who have publicly stated they will block all efforts to repeal or change Common Core and backs the newly elected President of the Board of Education who is a charter school operator and stands to profit from the Governor’s policy of pushing through AzMerit to lower school scores so that more students can be removed to charter schools," she said in a statement released by her office.

"If the Governor thinks I have to justify hiring or firing at will employees who can be terminated without cause and without rights of appeal, then it brings into question the dozens of agency heads and gubernatorial employees who have been removed and replaced for clearly political reasons. Does the Governor also believe he controls all other elected officials created by the state Constitution? If so, the next ballot should only have one office to vote upon," she said.

Tuesday, the release from Douglas' office said she "will work through legislative and judicial channels to confirm the proper oversight of individuals working" for the board.

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