Douglas: It’s Board of Education’s prerogative to sue

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas answers questions after attending an event Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, in Glendale. (Photo by James Anderson/Cronkite News)

Despite the threat of lawsuits from the Arizona State Board of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas insisted Thursday that she and the board are maintaining a professional working relationship.

Douglas was in Glendale to lead an Arizona Department of Education civic engagement event. After giving a speech and handing out awards, she stopped to take questions from the media.

“That’s their privilege,” she said of the board’s vote to authorize litigation. “The law is very clear. I’m not sure why they’re doing that, but that’s their prerogative.”

Douglas and the board have been locked in a battle all year over the role that the superintendent has in relationship to the board. On Tuesday, the Arizona State Board of Education voted to pursue all steps — including litigation — to make Douglas give board investigators remote access to department data and fully redirect traffic to the board’s independent website.

Board members allege that the lack of virtual access to data has kept the board’s Investigative Unit from doing its job.

“The current situation is unconscionable in my opinion, in excluding our investigators from full access to the needed information and possibly endangering students that we serve, as well as the integrity of this board,” board member Charles Schmidt said Tuesday.

But Douglas said her decision to withhold remote access is not causing problems.

“They have everything they need to do their job,” she said. “It’s a shame they’re misrepresenting that to the public.”

She didn’t attend Tuesday’s board meeting, instead criticizing Board President Greg Miller in a news release and saying he is “unable to control his temper.”

She said it would have been unproductive to attend the meeting, which also addressed the lawsuit that Douglas filed, lost and is appealing against the board, and the resignation of executive director Christine Thompson, whom Douglas tried to fire in February.

She hinted at a major Oct. 1 announcement regarding her plan for education in Arizona. She said a sneak peek of the plan came last week, when she demanded the state pay schools $400 million to address unpaid inflation adjustments.

Douglas’ funding plan would take money from the state’s general fund in 2016 and 2017 before potentially tapping into revenue from the state land trust.

Gov. Doug Ducey wants the payment plan to use solely the state land trust. Douglas said Arizona’s general fund has exceeded expectations and is safe to use.

“This is not new tax money. This is not a new imposition on our citizens,” she said. “It’s what’s already being generated by the different revenue streams that we have, and I can’t think of anything more important to spend it on than the children of Arizona.”

When asked about the petition that launched Sept. 1 to recall her from office, Douglas was nonchalant.

“I don’t think about it at all,” she said. “My focus is on the children of Arizona and the importance of that.”

At the Glendale ceremony, Douglas cheerfully handed out awards to students, teachers and schools that have demonstrated a commitment to improve civic engagement.

“I deeply and humbly appreciate you allowing me to just be a small part of this program today, to see all that you’ve done and all that you can accomplish,” she told the audience.