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Reading improvement web site on hold over feud between schools chief and ed board

computer-620State education officials are using the spat with the Board of Education in refusing to set up a web site so schools can submit legally required plans to show how they plan to improve reading skills.

Michael Bradley, chief of staff to school superintendent Diane Douglas, said in an email to Greg Miller, president of the education board, that it isn’t the responsibility of the Department of Education to maintain a web “portal” for the Move On When Reading program. That is designed to boost reading proficiency of students in kindergarten through third grade.

The move came as a surprise to Miller. He said the education department has maintained the portal in prior years.

But Bradley said that was then – and this is now.

“This issue is part of the ongoing legal disagreement,” he wrote to Miller. Bradley said there is no specific legal obligation for the Department of Education to maintain the site.

Bradley said, though, his agency will pick up the chore – but only if Arizona courts rule in favor of Douglas in her lawsuit against the board over who controls board employees. Douglas lost the first round in that dispute last month when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Patricia Starr threw out her lawsuit against the board.

Otherwise, Bradley said, the board should set up its own web portal.

Bradley’s move drew an angry reaction from Miller.

“This is nothing short of outrageous,” he responded in an email on Monday.

“All they have to do is flip a switch,” Miller said. “We paid for development of that the year before last.”

And Miller made it very clear he believes that Bradley, as Douglas’ top aide, is being nothing short of petty and vindictive.

“Put your Big Boy Pants on and get it done,” he wrote to Bradley.

Bradley did not immediately return repeated messages seeking comment.

Arizona law requires each school district and charter school to submit a plan to the Department of Education by Oct. 1 each year for how it intends to improve reading skills. That report also has to include the results from prior efforts.

The department uses that information to divide up funds to help. Miller said his agency gave away $40 million last year.

Last week Sabrina Vazquez, the deputy executive director of the education board, wrote to Bradley saying that several schools have inquired about submitting their plans. She wanted to know when the Department of Education “intends to open the window.”

Bradley responded on Friday in an email to Miller, telling him there would be no help from his agency – at least not as long as Douglas and the board are at odds over who controls the board’s employees.

“If our reading of the law prevails the issue becomes moot at Arizona Department of Education will supervise and support the needs of the program in its entirety,” Bradley wrote.

And to ensure that the superintendent’s legal position in the dispute is not missed, Bradley reminded Miller that Douglas in February fired both Vazquez and Christine Thompson, the board’s executive director. Both, however, remain on the state payroll and working for the board on orders of Gov. Doug Ducey.

Miller chided Bradley for refusing to work with the pair.

“You don’t have the authority to fire them,” Miller said.

“They have a job to do,” Miller continued. “So do you, so knock it off.”

He said that the refusal of Douglas and Bradley to maintain the web portal is going to hurt not the board but schools and the children who go there.

“That’s what’s happening and it needs to stop,” Miller said.

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