Schools chief blasts Gov. Ducey for overturning her firings

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas By Mike Gertzman Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas By Mike Gertzman
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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
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PHOENIX (AP) -- In a rapid escalation of a battle between two Republican state leaders, Arizona's schools chief on Thursday blasted Gov. Doug Ducey for overturning her firing of the top executives at the state Board of Education who support new Common Core school standards.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas issued a lengthy statement accusing Ducey of believing he is both governor and superintendent of schools.

Douglas said Ducey is creating "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."

Early in the day, Ducey said Douglas had no legal right to fire board executive director Christine Thompson and assistant director Sabrina Vazquez and re-instated them.

Douglas had her chief of staff fire the two on Wednesday.

Board of Education President Greg Miller objected to the firings, saying Thompson and Vazquez work for the board and not Douglas.

Miller is a strong supporter of the state's new Common Core standards and its new assessment test, adopted by the board late last year. He operates a charter school in Glendale.

Douglas campaigned on her opposition to those standards and has criticized the process where the board chose the test.

Douglas said she clearly has the constitutional authority to fire the employees.

"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," Douglas said.

Douglas was referring to legal language that is at the heart of a court fight over school funding.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the governor's lawyers cited "statutory language, legal precedent and concerns over the constitutional separation of powers" in overturning the firings.

The governor's office cited a 1985 legal opinion by then-Attorney General Bob Corbin that the board has the ability to hire and supervise its own staff and likewise can't oversee the superintendent of public instruction's staff.

Douglas said Ducey has refused to take her calls or meet with her since they both took office on Jan. 5.

She also said it is no surprise that Ducey overturned her firings of what she called "two liberal staff who have publicly stated they will block all efforts to repeal or change Common Core ..."

The 11-member board is a constitutional office that oversees school policy in the state and operates independently of the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction. Douglas is a board member by nature of her elected office, but the other members are appointed by the governor to four-year terms.

She accused Miller of standing to profit from the new test. She said its implementation will "lower school scores so that more students can be removed to charter schools."

Neither Miller nor Scarpinato immediately returned calls seeking comment after Douglas issued her statement.

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Press Release from Arizona Department of Education: Arizona Superintendent of Public Schools Diane Douglas Did Not See Doug Ducey’s Name on the Ballot for State Superintendent

Fact sheet from the Arizona Department of Education: The Constitution and statutes which give the Superintendent the authority to direct and fire employees of the Board of Education

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