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Judge to bickering school officials: “Get back to the business of education”

State schools chief Diane Douglas explains Monday why she believes the employees of the Board of Education answer to her and not to Greg Miller, the board's president.  (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

State schools chief Diane Douglas explains Monday why she believes the employees of the Board of Education answer to her and not to Greg Miller, the board’s president. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

A trial judge expressed some dismay Friday at the latest legal dust-up he’s being forced to decide between state schools chief Diane Douglas and the board of education.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson, assigned to hear two claims by the education board against Douglas, said a private conversation with the lawyers for both sides left him believing there’s no alternative to resolving the case without judicial intervention. So Anderson set dates when he wants to hear back from both sides.

But the judge also sent a message at the end of the hearing.

“Let me just say one more thing: Let’s get back to the business of education in the meantime,” Anderson said. “Can we?”

Board President Greg Miller was not in court with his legal counsel.

But Douglas, who was, said after the hearing she already is doing that. She said the litigation is just part of that.

“We have some questions of law that have to be resolved because I’ve been given some responsibilities not just by the statutes of the state of Arizona but also by the people of Arizona, and responsibilities they expect me to fulfill,” Douglas said. “And we need to make sure I’m able to do the job I was elected to do.”

The board, in suing Douglas, contends she is keeping the state’s business from getting done.

Board members voted earlier this year to move out of the Department of Education building after a series of disputes between Douglas and her staff on one side and the board and its employees on the other.

The investigators who look into whether teachers are fit to be in the classroom are employees of the board.

But the files they need exist at the Department of Education, under Douglas’s control. And she will not give the investigators remote access, saying that presents security issues.

Miller contends that endangers students, potentially putting people in classrooms who are unqualified or even have criminal records. Douglas responds that the investigators have access — if they come back to her offices and work under her control where she said they belong.

“Unfortunately, the board’s action moving those people out of our building and … out of the department have made it much harder for teachers to become certified,” she said after the hearing. “When they come in and they need to be worked with right away and need an immediate interview, there’s no one on staff to do that.”

The issue with the web site is a bit more complex.

When the board staff worked in Douglas’ building it used pages on the Department of Education server. When they moved out, they got a different state-run web site on which to put their information, including meeting notices. But Douglas has refused to forward traffic that goes to the old site to the new one.

“They can have whatever web site they want,” she said when asked about her refusal. “The superintendent is responsible for the records of the board.”

This is the second lawsuit between the board and Douglas.

In an earlier case brought by Douglas, a different trial judge rejected her request to rule that she and not the board has the power to hire and fire board employees. That case is now before the state Court of Appeals.

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