The very public fight between Arizona Schools Superintendent Diane Douglas and Gov. Doug Ducey about her authority over State Board of Education employees is a distraction and disservice to taxpayers and students.
Douglas last week fired the executive and deputy directors of the State Board of Education, which the next day Ducey, after meeting with advisers, announced was an overreach of her office’s powers. He says the two employees still have jobs.
Douglas responded with an over-the-top written statement worthy of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” titled “Arizona Superintendent of Public Schools Diane Douglas Did Not See Doug Ducey’s Name on the Ballot for State Superintendent.”
In it she accuses Ducey of backing “two liberal staff,” establishing a “shadow faction” of charter school operators who support Common Core, and of acting so his charter school cronies will benefit financially. She adds that the governor should “bring back African-American representation to the Board.”
Douglas refused to speak with reporters and on Thursday walked away from news cameras outside her office building.
Finally, on Friday morning she read a prepared statement — which took 75 seconds — saying that “it’s obvious that there is ambiguity in the statutory language” and that she does “not wish to spend precious tax dollars litigating who is responsible for the various operations or of the staff of the Board of Education.”
“I so look forward to working with Gov. Ducey” on legislation that will clear the whole thing up, she said. But during the 130 seconds she spent responding to reporters’ questions she said, “I believe I am within in my rights” in firing the board employees.
She stuck to her rehearsed message and refused to address her inflammatory statement about Ducey. She offered no evidence for her wide-ranging accusations and didn’t answer a direct question about it.
While Douglas is suddenly ready for a friendly conversation about a problem she thinks exists, Ducey’s position is clear: This issue has been reviewed in the past by the Arizona attorney general and the State Board of Education employees work for the board, not the superintendent. He has nothing to clarify.
As political theater, Douglas vs. Ducey is entertaining. In real life, it’s damaging.
Friday afternoon at a Board of Education special meeting, Douglas moved all microphones and recorders away from her, including those from the media. She couldn’t be heard on the room audio, according to tweets from the meeting. She avoided the media after the meeting, too.
Douglas’ aversion to the public isn’t new. During the campaign she refused to debate, except for the one she was legally required to do because she took public money to run for office.
Her entire platform consisted of eliminating Common Core. As many pointed out before and after the election, the state superintendent isn’t able to do that because, as specified in the state constitution, it’s the State Board of Education that makes education policy. The superintendent is but one vote on that board, which voted against her Friday and instructed her to let the employees back into their offices. She says she’ll consult with legal counsel before deciding if she’ll comply.
Arizona children need an effective and collaborative advocate in the state superintendent’s office. Douglas’ reckless and amateur approach alienates the public, lawmakers, the governor, educators and the Board of Education and is a clear detriment to the students she’s supposed to serve.