Arizona Schools Chief Diane Douglas Goes to Town on Doug Ducey

Arizona's new schools chief Diane "Repeal Common Core" Douglas and new Governor Doug Ducey have entered into an unusual public spat that, if nothing else, is highly entertaining.

Earlier this week, Douglas fired two employees of the State Board of Education over their alleged support of a new standardized test based on the controversial Common Core curriculum, which Douglas has vowed to repeal. Ducey essentially overruled this move saying Douglas, a fellow Republican, didn't have that power.

Douglas did not take kindly to that move, issuing a press release titled "Arizona Superintendent of Public Schools Diane Douglas Did Not See Doug Ducey's Name on the Ballot for State Superintendent."

"Governor Ducey apparently views himself as both Governor and Superintendent of Schools," the statement goes on to say. "For someone who has spent so much time discussing the plain meaning of 'or vs. and' as a justification to deprive schools of hundreds of millions of dollars to give to his corporate cronies as tax cuts, I wish he would use the same precision in looking at the plain language of the law with regard to the powers and duties of the Superintendent of Public Instruction."

Recall that back on the campaign trail, Douglas -- a political newcomer -- was really kept out of the spotlight compared to other Republicans, although Ducey did eventually support her. Republicans won all of Arizona's statewide offices, although Douglas came the closest to losing to a Democratic opponent.

Ducey did not fire back as forcefully as Douglas, but he did respond.

His spokesman issued a statement saying, "Governor Ducey is disappointed Superintendent Douglas has chosen this path. His office will continue working every day to improve educational outcomes for every Arizona child, and he hopes she joins that conversation."

Meanwhile, Douglas says Ducey has "refused to take calls or meetings with me personally since his swearing in," which Ducey denies, yadda, yadda, yadda. Let's get back to the name-calling.

"Clearly, [Ducey] has established a shadow faction of charter school operators and former state Superintendents who support Common Core and moving funds from traditional public schools to charter schools," Douglas' statement says.

The statement explains:

"It is no surprise that his office supports retaining two liberal staff who have publicly stated they will block all efforts to repeal or change Common Core and backs the newly elected President of the Board of Education who is a charter school operator and stands to profit from the Governor's policy of pushing through AzMerit to lower school scores so that more students can be removed to charter schools. I swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State of Arizona with my hand upon the Bible. I take that oath very seriously and will continue to do so. I also promised the voters of the state to replace Common Core and will not falter in my best efforts to keep my promise, regardless of whether the Governor honors his campaign rhetoric to do the same.

"If the Governor thinks I have to justify hiring or firing at will employees who can be terminated without cause and without rights of appeal, then it brings into question the dozens of agency heads and gubernatorial employees who have been removed and replaced for clearly political reasons. Does the Governor also believe he controls all other elected officials created by the state Constitution? If so, the next ballot should only have one office to vote upon.

"I wish the Governor would focus on his own duty to fill vacant positions on the Board of Education. We have encouraged him to appoint real 'lay persons' and to bring back African-American representation to the Board. Unfortunately, he is remiss to address his own education responsibilities. Despite publicly stating that education is the number one issue in the state. If he would spend time selecting Board members it would also reveal whether he is actually for or against Common Core. Perhaps that is the cause for his reticence."

Aside from the entertainment of the fireworks, there is the real issue at hand here, which is whether Douglas actually had the power to fire these two people.

The state Constitution doesn't plainly say that the superintendent has the power to fire employees of the State Board of Education.

According to Ducey's office, legal counsel cited a state attorney general's opinion from 1985 in saying the move couldn't happen. Meanwhile, Douglas' spokeswoman sent us a fact sheet with their reasoning.

We checked with the Attorney General's Office to find out whether Douglas or her staff consulted with it before making this move, but the AG's spokeswoman cited attorney-client privilege.

However, AG spokeswoman Kristen Keogh did add, "If this matter moves to litigation, the Attorney General's Office will declare a conflict and advise both the board and the superintendent to hire outside counsel."

Meanwhile, Arizona Board of Education executive director Christine Thompson -- one of the two people who was fired, then not fired -- has called a special meeting of the board scheduled to take place this afternoon.

UPDATE 11:47 a.m.: Douglas held a press conference this morning, and took a lot more civil tone. On this issue, she says she's going to work with the governor's office on legislation to address her authority over the board, to avoid costly litigation.

Author's note: This post originally said that Douglas tried to fire board members, rather than employees of the board. It has been corrected.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley