Power Struggle in Arizona Schools

     PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction sued the State Board of Education in a power struggle, insisting that she oversees the board’s employees and can fire them.
     Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas sued the board, its president Greg Miller and executive director Christine Thompson on May 15 in Maricopa County Court.
     The dispute began in February when Thompson and the board’s deputy director “refused to acknowledge that they reported to the superintendent and her administration, and asserted that they report directly to the board,” Douglas says in the complaint.
     The Arizona Department of Education and the state Board of Education are separate entities, though Douglas is a member of the board as superintendent.
     In response, the board claimed Douglas – a Republican – did not have the authority to fire board members.
     Gov. Doug Ducey, also a Republican, agreed and overturned the firings.
     The board voted in April “to authorize the executive director to execute a lease for office space with the purpose of removing the board employees from the control and direction of the superintendent.”
     Without Douglas’s approval, 11 employees “moved out of the offices assigned to them by the Department of Education and moved to offices controlled by the state but located outside the control of the Department of Education,” the superintendent says in the complaint.
     Despite her requests, the employees refused to return to their offices. Douglas claims these actions prevent her from fully performing her duties, leaving her open for criminal prosecution for malfeasance.
     “Arizona deserves better,” Miller said in a statement. “The board will continue to function as an autonomous constitutional entity and stay focused on the issue of ensuring educational excellence in Arizona public schools.”
     Douglas seeks a declaration that she may fire any board employee, particularly if they refuse to follow her direction.
     “I did not want this conflict, which started when I first took office, and I have tried a number of different ways to resolve it,” Douglas said.
     She also seeks a finding that the board’s action in April was outside its authority.
     “(T)he superintendent is solely empowered to control and oversee the day-to-day activities of the board employees, including the location where they will work, the times of their work, their reporting requirements, on what matters they may work, and all other terms of their employment that are necessary for the superintendent to perform her duty to direct the board employees’ work and to exercise her executive, administration and ministerial duties over those employees,” Douglas says in the complaint.
     Douglas was elected in November after a hotly contested race in which she campaigned against Common Core. She was elected without the majority of votes in Arizona’s most populous counties – Maricopa (Phoenix) and Pima (Tucson).
     She is represented by Stephen Tully and Randy Aoyama of Hinshaw & Culbertson.

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