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State school board votes to authorize lawsuits against Superintendent Diane Douglas

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Captiol Times)

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Captiol Times)

With Diane Douglas boycotting the meeting at least in part because her seat was changed, the state Board of Education voted Tuesday to authorize two new lawsuits against her.

And they unanimously set the stage for a third.

The board told attorney Mary O’Grady to sue Douglas for refusing to grant the board’s investigators online remote access to teacher files.

Douglas has said the staffers can see the files — but only if they come to her offices at the state Board of Education where they used to work. But the staffers, at the board’s direction, moved out of the Department of Education earlier this year because of disputes with the school superintendent.

Board member Charles Schmidt accused Douglas of “political grandstanding.” He pointed out that one job of the investigators is to check the backgrounds of teachers to see if there is anything that might make them unsuitable to be alone with students in a classroom.

“It’s unconscionable what she’s doing with regard to withholding that information from our investigators and potentially endangering the students that we serve and the integrity of this board,” he said.

Douglas, who is a member of the board but chose not to attend, did not respond to requests following the meeting for an interview. But press aide Charles Tack said there’s a good reason to deny remote access: security of the files.

“Even our own certification employees do not have remote access,” he said. And as to the possibility of going to court, Tack said “we all wish it hadn’t come to this.”

Tack said his boss had planned to be present.

But that was before she saw the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting which was posted Monday. Douglas, in a prepared statement, said Miller is turning the meetings “into spectacles that do nothing but harm our education system.”

“These frequently include items never discussed for inclusion that have no purpose but to incite conflict and create billable hours for his attorneys,” Douglas charged.

It’s not just the access of investigators to records that will end up in court. Separately, the board told O’Grady to sue Douglas if she refuses to redirect traffic from the board’s original web site from the days it was housed at the Department of Education to a new web address set up after the board got its own offices.

And even more litigation is possible because the board also voted to take the first steps to fill two positions.

That includes the position of executive director, a post now held by Christine Thompson who Douglas tried to fire in February. While that move was thwarted by Gov. Doug Ducey, Thompson finally announced her resignation last Friday after months of disputes with Douglas.

State law allows the board to fill staff vacancies. But Steve Tully, Douglas’ attorney, contends that statute allows the board to act only on the “recommendation of the superintendent.”

Miller did agree Tuesday to put Douglas on the screening committee. But he said he will not let her dictate who the board can and cannot hire.

In an earlier lawsuit, Douglas argued to a judge that she controls the board’s employees, including where they work and whether they are fired. But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Patricia Starr threw her claim out of court.

Douglas would get the opportunity to sue again if the board hires a new executive director over her objections.

In her prepared statement, Douglas conceded that her decision to stay away from Tuesday’s meeting went beyond her objection to the items on the agenda. She also complained that Miller had moved her seat from the one she used to have immediately to his right to several seats over — and away from him — on the dais.

Miller said that was done on purpose.

During the last meeting, Douglas accused Miller of assaulting her, filing a complaint with the Department of Public Safety.

Miller responded that he was simply batting away her microphone since she was speaking out of turn. And he said if he did touch her arm, it was inadvertent.

But with the police now involved, Miller said he was not going to risk a repeat.

“Within an hour of doing that, she had her spokesman say that I couldn’t control my temper and I should resign my position,” he said.

“That sounds like it was set up,” Miller continued. “And that’s why she’s not going to sit next to me again.”

While Douglas criticized Miller and the board for pursuing litigation, the schools chief also indicated she welcomed it, if for no other reason than it would finally put an end to the squabbling over who has what powers.

“The real legal issues will be decided by the courts,” she said, referring to Miller as “a non-elected political appointee wishing to usurp the powers of a duly elected constitutional officer.”

 

 

 

 

One comment

  1. Republicans say,”Government is not the solution; it’s the problem.” Arizona sure has a problem with government. Republicans hold all of our state-wide elected offices, and it is clear that they are unable to govern. Diane Douglas & the state Board of Education fight and engage in multiple lawsuits & even criminal charges. A dark money cloud of influence peddling hangs over the Arizona Corporation Commission which is governed by 5 Republican Commissioners. Gov. Ducey & the GOP dominated legislature rushed a budget through which cuts taxes (again) but inadequately funds child protection services & education. The 9/13/15 NY Times Magazine notes that Arizona is one of 4 states which cut funding to colleges even more than most other states. Gov. Ducey proposes a plan to fund education by using the principle from the state trust fund, a plan that harms education in the future and that the state Treasurer rightly opposes. Republican leadership has made our state government dysfunctional. We should remember that and hold them accountable.

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