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Arizona schools chief Douglas appeals judge’s dismissal of lawsuit

Diane Douglas, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks on some topics as she meets with members of the media in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Diane Douglas, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks on some topics as she meets with members of the media in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

A power struggle between Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas and the state Board of Education over authority to hire and fire the board’s staff is poised for another court battle.

Douglas appealed a Maricopa County Superior Court judge’s decision Friday to dismiss her lawsuit against the board. Steven Tully, an attorney for Douglas, requested a special action by the state Court of Appeals.

“The court got it wrong,” Tully told the Arizona Republic. “The superintendent has the right to hire and fire staff.”

Mary O’Grady, an attorney for the board, called the appeal “disappointing, but not surprising.”

Board President Greg Miller said the court didn’t get it wrong.

“It substantiated the view of the board that the board sets policy, hires staff, and the superintendent carries out the policy set by the board,” Miller said.

Douglas sued the board in May after trying to fire two board staff members, whose jobs were restored after Gov. Doug Ducey stepped in.

Judge Patricia Starr ruled earlier this month that Douglas was claiming power she does not have. Part of the lawsuit was a “political question” inappropriate for a court to decide, and other parts were too abstract to warrant a court ruling, Starr ruled.

In the petition to the appeals court, Tully argues that the question of authority is not political.

“This dispute was precipitated by the board’s creation of a separate administration under (board director) Christine Thompson to execute and administer board policies and to oversee board employees,” Tully wrote.

Starr also said in her ruling that state law “establishes that the power to fire board employees lies with the board” and that the superintendent does not control the board.

Department of Education records show Tully’s services in the lawsuit court proceedings amount to $28,000. That does not include money being spent on the appeal. Meanwhile, the education board has spent more than $21,000 on the lawsuit. Records also show some board staff spent nearly $10,000 in state funds for outside legal counsel.

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