The Senate voted today without any debate to pass a bill altering the power between the State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The 24 to 5 vote sends SB1416 to the House for consideration. Five Republicans voted against it.
The bill puts the board in control of hiring, firing and supervising their own workers and puts certain administrative functions under the control of the board.
The bill’s passage in the House and governor’s signature on it would potentially end pending lawsuits the board and Douglas have filed against each other in their year-long power struggle.
Douglas pleaded with lawmakers in letters on Feb. 9 and today not to pass the bill and let the courts decide.
“The department respects the vital role and constitutional authority of our Legislature to set and alter our state’s laws and direct the setting of policy,” Douglas said in her letter. “However, this bill does not provide any needed clarification; rather, it further complicates the relationship between the board and the department.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Dial, a Chandler Republican, said in a press release the bill isn’t meant to strip away power from anyone, but to correct inconsistencies that have grown over the years.
He said it builds upon a bill that passed the Senate and died in the House last year meant to distinguish the powers and duties between the two.
Douglas, who is a member of the board by statute, said neither she nor the Department of Education, which she runs, had any input on writing the bill.
Douglas said in both letters she has offered the board an olive branch in the form of court mediation only for the board to slap it away.
Board President Greg Miller said that isn’t true.
He said Douglas has spurned up to seven offers to mediate and she has said on several occasions in board discussions that she isn’t willing to work out a solution.
“So to suggest that now she was the one ‘willing’ to mediate, when pending legislation could or will solve the issue, (that) she is trying to paint the board as unwilling to mediate seems to be disingenuous,” Miller said.
Mary O’Grady, the board’s attorney, said it is always willing to mediate.
“We simply believe that the mediation process for the litigation should be separate from the legislative process that is already underway,” O’Grady said.
The problems began in February 2015 when Douglas fired the two administrators who work for the board.
Douglas asserts that the law clearly states the board hires its employees at the superintendent’s recommendation and they work under supervision of the superintendent.
Gov. Doug Ducey interceded and directed state human services officials to ignore the terminations.
Douglas sued and asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Patricia Starr to declare her interpretation of the law is correct, but Starr ruled she had no jurisdiction in the dispute.
The board’s staff moved out of its offices in the Department of Education building in May and into the Executive Tower a few blocks away.
Douglas refused remote access to teacher files for investigators who work for the board. Their job is look into teacher misconduct. Without the remote access the investigators have to go to their old offices to look at the files.
The board sued to force Douglas to provide the access and a decision by Judge Arthur Anderson of Maricopa County Superior Court is pending.