Arizona Super’s Suit Over Control of State Board Dismissed


Diane Douglas, Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, has had her request to control employees of the Board of Education’s hiring and firin, as well as determining their office locations, thrown out of court.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Patricia Starr decided that according to Arizona law, the superintendent has the power to direct the work of the board’s employees, and she also acknowledged that the superintendent was the “executive officer” of the board. But Starr explained that the board, of which Douglas is a member, sets the policy. This means the board’s decision to take their offices out of Douglas’ offices and into their own space is perfectly legal.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services reports that Starr pointed out that while Douglas does have control over the Department of Education, she does not control the board.

“The court is not in the position to second-guess the board’s decision regarding allocation of resources and funds in relation to leases and inter-agency agreements,” Starr wrote. “The Board’s discretion over policy-making regarding the best use of resources is a political question not appropriate for judicial resolution.”

The judge added that this is the same reason Douglas does not have the right to hire or fire board members. A press aide for Douglas says the superintendent is considering what steps should be taken at this point with the help of her attorney.

The problems began when Douglas made it clear she wanted Common Core, the academic standards adopted by the board in 2010, eliminated. Almost two months after taking office, Douglas tried to fire two staff members who stated they would block efforts to repeal Common Core.

Governor Doug Ducey directed state personnel officials to disregard Douglas’ order. Later, the board voted to move its employees out of the DOE building and into the Capitol Tower where the governor has his offices.

Douglas stated after the release of Starr’s decision that she will likely appeal.

“We are going to respond in court to the decision,” said attorney Steven Tully. “I didn’t expect this. I think the judge made a mistake and we will respond accordingly.”

Douglas’ attorney said the options available for his client are an appeal or a request for another hearing, writes Cathryn Creno of The Arizona Republic.

The board’s attorney, Mary O’Grady, said the decision was a “complete victory for the board.” Board president Greg Miller was pleased with the decision and said the next hurdle is to deal with two important issues between the board and Douglas.

One is that Douglas has stopped allowing board staffers who are investigating complaints against certified teachers from accessing documents at the teachers’ own work station. She has ordered they must go to the DOE building for the documents. The other is confusion as to who runs the state’s Move on When Reading program, which is in place to make sure schools are providing everything necessary for third graders struggling with reading. This was once the board’s responsibility, but the education department will take it over this year.

Bob Christie and Paul Davenport of the Associated Press quoted Miller on the importance of moving forward with Arizona’s education agenda:

“Now that this litigation is behind us, the Board looks forward to continuing our work ensuring the resources of the state are committed to putting Arizona’s children first and expecting excellence in all of Arizona’s public schools.”