The state Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on a bill giving the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind more flexibility in hiring superintendents.
The bill, which was given preliminary approval on a voice vote earlier this week, would then go to the House of Representatives.
The bill, SB 1393, would allow the agency to hire two superintendents — one each for the deaf and the blind schools, if it chooses to.
It also eliminates a requirement the superintendent have experience in deaf or blind education, removes the current April 15 deadline for renewing contracts and drops a requirement the superintendent be the school’s chief executive.
Supporters say the changes would allow the superintendent to focus more on administrative duties, such as managing the budget, transportation issues and working with principals to ensure the schools are following state standards.
However, some members of the school’s deaf community are concerned about the provision to get rid of the requirement that the superintendent should have a background in deaf or blind education.
The group, made up mainly of parents, students and other supporters, wonder why they heard of the bill for the first time at last month’s Governing Board meeting, when board President Michael Williams announced it to the audience.
By then, lawmakers were already reviewing the bill.
Williams worked with State Sen. Kimberly Yee, who is one the bill’s sponsors, along with state and ASDB officials, to draft the legislation.
ASDB is searching for a new superintendent after approving a settlement last month with former Superintendent Robert Hill, who was criticized for poor leadership and a lack of communication with students, staffers and parents.
Hill was also faulted for tallying about $8,700 in inappropriate travel expenses over three years.
Williams doesn’t want the next superintendent to deal with school-related issues or parent complaints.
“We have to find the right superintendent, and it may be someone who has a blind education and a deaf education,” he said.
The agency cannot get into a position where it’s “replacing superintendents every three years,” he said.
Williams wants to remove the April deadline for contract renewals so the board has more time to review a contract if an issue arises.
The deadline change is an outgrowth a situation last year, when the board was given little time to decide whether it should renew the contract of former administrator Nancy Amann.
Amann was placed on administrative leave in February 2013 while the school investigated her handling of a vehicle search at a dorm on the Tucson campus.
In April, the board received a list of allegations against Amann just days before the deadline, along with a recommendation from Hill to not renew her contract.
“The board was flying blind,” he said. “If it happens again, we’re not going to do that.”
Some members of the deaf community support the notion of having a superintendent for each school, but are concerned about not requiring a superintendent to have deaf- or blind-education experience.
“The deaf community is clearly upset that this bill was initiated without any feedback whatsoever from the deaf community,” said Rob Voreck, an ASDB parent who recently helped organize a town hall for deaf students, parents, staff and others.
Some board members didn’t know about it until last month’s board meeting.
“Several people came up to me and asked why wasn’t the bill on the ASDB board agenda when it was first announced,” said board member Sherri Collins.
People from the deaf community have expressed similar concerns about the potential qualifications for the next superintendent to the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, where Collins is executive director.
Collins plans to testify on behalf of the commission and the community regarding the bill, she said.