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State Senate votes to curb school chief’s authority

Diane Douglas, Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Diane Douglas, Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction

PHOENIX – Rejecting a last-minute plea from the state schools chief, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday, Feb. 23, to strip her of many duties she contends are constitutionally hers.

The 24-5 vote came just hours after Diane Douglas wrote to senators telling them adoption of SB 1416 would be a mistake.

“I urge you to read its provisions and see the administrative authority being transferred to a non-elected, unaccountable body, without the expertise or resources to properly administrate and oversee its functions or its employees,” Douglas told senators. She said defeating the measure would “safeguard the will of the voters and the statutory and constitutional authority of all elected officials in office now, and in the future.”

But while five senators refused to support the measure, not a single one of them stood up to vocally oppose the legislation. It now goes to the House.

The legislation crafted by Sen. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, comes after a year of squabbles with the Board of Education that started shortly after Douglas took office in January 2015.

Douglas was elected largely on her promise to eliminate the Common Core academic standards.

A month into office, she attempted to fire the board’s executive director and assistant, calling them “two liberal staff who have publicly stated they will block all efforts to repeal or change Common Core.” That move was effectively thwarted when Gov. Doug Ducey told state personnel officials to ignore Douglas’ order and keep the pair on the payroll.

The board eventually moved its workers out of the Department of Education Building.

Douglas sued, contending state law gives her control over the board’s employees and where they work. A trial judge refused to rule, calling it a political matter; the case is now at the Court of Appeals.

The board later filed its own lawsuit after Douglas refused to give its investigators remote access to teacher files.

Dial said his legislation is designed to end all the litigation – and stop having taxpayers foot the bill for attorneys for both sides.

The measure, which now goes to the House, spells out that the Board of Education has the power to hire, fire and supervise its own employees. The board is composed of gubernatorial appointees, with Douglas also serving on the panel as a voting member.

It also makes clear that it is the board that sets policy.

Douglas argued that as the lone person elected by voters, she should have some role in that. But the legislation says that her role is to carry out board-elected policies.

Charles Tack, press aide to Douglas, sidestepped questions of whether Douglas, who contends the bill infringes on her constitutional authority, will sue if it becomes law.

“Since the bill is still moving through the process, I am sure she will wait to determine what the next steps need to be based on its final disposition,” he said.

Aside from the lawsuits between Douglas and the board, there was an incident at an August board meeting where she said she was grabbed by board President Greg Miller.

Miller insisted he was simply brushing away her microphone when she was speaking out of order but conceded he may have touched her. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, after reviewing police reports, declined to prosecute.


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