Abrupt Firings in Arizona Raise Questions About Politics, Law

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The top two administrators for the Arizona Board of Education were fired earlier this week by the state’s schools chief.  The move was done so quickly that some education leaders are questioning whether the motive was politically-motivated and whether it was even legal.

Christine Thompson, the executive director, and Sabrina Vazquez, assistant executive director, were fired from their positions by Diane Douglas, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction.  The pair were given no reason and have not commented on the situation.

However, Rebecca Gau, executive director of the education advocacy group Stand for Children Arizona, believes the move to be “incredibly disappointing.”

Gau said Douglas had been unhappy with the board staff, who had been continuing to preparing AzMERIT, the state’s new standardized test, for release after Douglas was elected in November.  Douglas has called the test “unproven” and “hastily chosen.”

It is estimated that the new exam will be taken by around 1 million students between the third and eleventh grades.  The test is supposed to measure concepts taught under the new Arizona College and Career Standards.

While test results this year will not affect school letter grades or student graduation, Douglas feels the state is moving too fast in incorporating the exam.

When asked whether firing the two staff members was a political move, Governor Doug Ducey’s spokesman Daniel Scarpinato replied “We’re reviewing it to see.”  Ducey was not involved in the firings, and it has not been made public whether the governor approves the move or not, writes Cathryn Creno for AZCentral.

Board president Greg Miller confirmed the firings on Wednesday, saying he was “terribly surprised” that the education department would be involved in the firings of school board staff.  Both women had been hired by the board and were solely working on board issues.

According to state law, the schools chief is allowed to “direct the work of all employees of the board who shall be employees of the department of education” and “direct the performance of executive, administrative or ministerial functions by the department of education or divisions or employees thereof.”

The law is not specific on whether or not the superintendent can hire or fire board staff.

Miller said he always thought the education board was a separate entity from the education department.  While the two groups share a location in downtown Phoenix, they work separately.

Miller added that he is finding a legal opinion as to whether Douglas has the authority to fire board staff or not.  When asked if there was a reason to fire the two, he said there was  “absolutely none.”