Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas’ top aide fired the top two administrators for the State Board of Education today, setting up a legal showdown between the board and the Department of Education.
Greg Miller, president of the board, confirmed that Christine Thompson, executive director, and Sabrina Vasquez, assistant executive director, were fired and escorted out of the Department of Education.
Miller said he doesn’t think Douglas’ chief of staff, Michael Bradley, has the legal authority to fire the executives.
“They certainly don’t have the moral right to do that without the consent and agreement of the board, and that certainly is not the case,” Miller said. “In my mind this is an issue of the superintendent’s office taking the position they don’t care what the state Constitution says and they have the ultimate power to determine policy.”
One Arizona statute says the superintendent directs the work of the board’s staff, who “shall be employees of the department of education.” Another statute says the board “shall employ staff on the recommendation of the superintendent of public instruction.”
Miller said the firings are an attempt to shut down Common Core, the learning standards that Douglas vowed to get rid of during her run for the office
He said Thompson and Vasquez were carrying out the board’s policies on Common Core.
The board adopted the politically-charged standards in 2010. It has implemented them across all grades and in November chose AZMERIT, the test designed to measure student achievement under the standards.
Miller said the board will be looking at its options with the attorney general and Governor’s Office.
“I would say this is one of those issues that is going to be looked at very, very closely by a whole bunch of very sharp legal minds,” Miller said.
Sally Stewart, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said she could not comment on personnel matters.
Tom Horne, who served two terms as superintendent of public instruction and one as attorney general, said he sees the executive director “within the province of the board” even though the employees who work for the board are “technically” department employees as far as payroll.
“This is a board function, not a superintendent function,” Horne said.
Rebecca Gau, executive director of Stand for Children, a non-profit that lobbies on various education issues, said the firings were strictly political and unprofessional and an act of gamesmanship instead of public discourse.
“I am sure there was no good cause involved,” Gau said.
She said she and her staff keep in touch with Thompson and Vargas, and the two executives were told weeks ago to get on board with the Department of Education.
She said the firings put many issues that the board is working on, such as working with the Legislature in revamping the state’s school rating system, managing teacher evaluations and Move on When Reading, into flux.
“It seems like a very conscious effort to stall those efforts,” Gau said.