Judge hears arguments on Douglas, Board of Education dispute

Gary Grado//June 26, 2015

Judge hears arguments on Douglas, Board of Education dispute

Gary Grado//June 26, 2015

court gavel 620A judge presiding over the legal dispute between Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas and the Board of Education said Friday she will rule on a motion to dismiss the case as soon as possible.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Patricia Starr asked few questions of attorneys during oral arguments, but she did ask Douglas’ attorney how she should structure an order if she sides with the superintendent.

Douglas’ attorney, Stephen Tully, said he would want a judgment declaring the superintendent the boss of the board employees and voiding the board’s decision directing its staff to move to a new office.

The suit stems from Douglas’ attempt in February to fire the board’s executive director, Christine Thompson, and her deputy, Sabrina Vazquez. More recently, the board voted to move 11 board employees’ offices, including those of Thompson and Vazquez, out of the Arizona Department of Education building and into the Executive Tower, about two blocks away.

Douglas sued in May, asking the court to force Thompson and Vazquez to move back into the ADE building. She also wants Starr to rule that the board’s employees “work for the Department of Education and report to the superintendent.”

The board’s attorney, Colin Campbell, urged Starr to dismiss the case, saying that Douglas wants the court to invalidate board policy, which is not the court’s job. He also said that the Legislature has already said through statute the board decides policy and the superintendent carries it out.

“It’s really a dispute about power and control,” Campbell said. “The Board of Education is moving its employees into a new office. The superintendent, who in February kicked the employees out of the office and wouldn’t let them back in, now wants to keep them in the office and bar the door so they can’t leave.”

Campbell said Douglas needs to go to the Legislature if she doesn’t like how it allocated power.

“What the superintendent wants to lead the court into doing is really political, and not justiciable. She wants sort of a guide map for the future of ‘what I can do and what I can’t do,’” Campbell said. “That’s impossible to do. It turns the court into a court of appeals for any Board of Education vote or decision.”

Tully said it is shocking the way the board is ignoring the law, and that the board has effectively stripped the superintendent’s power to execute and administer the policies of the board and granted them to Thompson.

He said it is clear from statute that the superintendent “shall direct the work of all employees of the board who shall be employees of the department of education,” and “the State Board of Education shall delegate to the superintendent of public instruction execution of board policies and rules.”

Tully said the board has effectively set up its own system of government.

“They just don’t like the superintendent so they say, ‘OK, we’ll just ignore the superintendent and all the powers granted to her and we’re going to have the executive director do her job,’” Tully said.

Starr said if she rules against the board, she will immediately set a court date to decide how to proceed with the case.