Board of Education Move

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In an ongoing feud between the Arizona Board of Education and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, the board has moved its offices out of the Arizona Department of Education’s offices, where the superintendent is located. Jaime Molera, who has served on the state board of education member and as superintendent, will tell us more about what this move might mean for Arizona’s education system.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon, we'll hear from a former education chief on the current fued between state education agencies. Also tonight, we'll talk about cheating in sports in light of deflate gate, and we'll learn about an innovation competition co-hosted by the U.S. and Mexico. Those stories next on Arizona Horizon. Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon, I'm Ted Simons, the state board of education this weekend moved out of its offices at the department of education and relocated to the Governor's executive tower. The move is the latest in a fight that started with superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas, attempting to fire two board of education employees. James Molera has a unique perspective of serving on the board, and as state superintendent, he joins us now us now.
This is very interesting.

Let's get some basics out of the way. First of all are you surprised that the board moved out of their offices at the department of education?

JAMES MOLERA: I'm not. As you recall, when the Governor Ducey said, I don't believe that she had the authority to fire the state board of education employees, at the time, there was discussion about, is there a place for them to be located? If she was going to fight legally, going to try and bar them from the building, they made it very clear that they wanted to have a space for them to function and do their jobs.

TED SIMONS: Are you surprised that space is in the executive tower?

JAMES MOLERA: I'm not. Because the Governor, in a lot of ways, is -- oversees the activities in K-12 education, the Governor appoints the board members, the Governor sets the budgets, right, for all the state agencies, including the state board of education, so it's not surprising that they have space there in the executive tower.

TED SIMONS: Are you surprised of the department of administration, the department of administration, helped with the move?

JAMES MOLERA: No.

This reflects what the Governor and the chief of staff, Kirk Adams, had said during this controversy. We need a state board of education to function on their job, and which is setting the state standards, which is overseeing the state assessment, and oversees the K-12 policy, and if they are going to be in a situation where, you know, they are having to deal with emails being monitored, with all kinds of bizarre activities, then they have to be in a location that they, actually, can do their work.

TED SIMONS: I think the eyebrows were raised, that location is with the Governor, considering it seems as though the Governor and the superintendent were at odds on the issue.

JAMES MOLERA : I think that they are at odds on the issue, so I think the governor is making it clear, look, they are an executive agency and they have to do their job effectively, and so, they are going to be in a position to do it now.

TED SIMONS: Do you think that Diane Douglas did have the authority to fire those two board of education employees?

JAMES MOLERA: No. Unequivocally, no. When this controversy erupted, there was an old attorney general's opinion done by Bob Corbett, the late 1970s and early 1980s, and he made it very clear that the state board of education is in our, is in our state constitution. So, there is, according to the then attorney general, who created precedence now, he said that this is something that is separate, and it's not reporting to the superintendent of the public instruction. The superintendent has a role in that the superintendent has a vote on the board, as a member of the board. Can help in the hiring and the firing process. But it really is collectively, the board that makes those decisions.

TED SIMONS: Ok, so, does the Governor have the authority to negate those particular firings?

JAMES MOLERA: Well, absolutely. And because the state board of education negated those, the state board of education made it clear that every member, saved Diane Douglas, that they did not want to see the individuals fired, and they made it clear, and the Governor, saying these are our employees and we need to make sure that they function well, and the governor said, absolutely, if those are your employees, we're going to make sure it happens, and they are going to have an opportunity to function.

TED SIMONS: So it's almost similar to me saying, those board of education employees, you are fired. I mean, it's somewhat similar in that yo the authority, and neither did Diane Douglas.

JAMES MOLERA: Absolutely.

TED SIMONS: Hostile atmosphere and work environments being charged on both sides. Are you surprised by that?

JAMES MOLERA: Well, I'm a little surprised at the accusations of Christine Thompson, the executive director, Sabrina vasquez, the deputy director.

Board of education.

Board of education staff. They are very well regarded in the education and business community. These individuals are seen as very professional, very competent. And very mild mannered individuals, so for them to create a hostile work environment, to be accused of that is a stretch.

TED SIMONS: Verbal confrontations and assault alleged?

JAMES MOLERA: Well, and again, if you saw those two ladies, I just don't believe that that's possible, I think it's a silly accusation being filed.

TED SIMONS: But, let's say something, the staff saw something that did not sit right to them, does the department of education, is the department of education authorized to discipline the board of education employees?

JAMES MOLERA: They are State of Arizona employees, so there is certain standards that they have to hold themselves to because they could be reprimanded under the authority of the state board of education, and they could be reprimanded under the auspices of the Arizona department of administration, because they have a guideline of employees so they would have to adhere to those things, and certainly, if there was any kind of bad actions by them, there is a recourse that the individuals can take against them.

TED SIMONS: But not necessarily individuals at the department of education?

JAMES MOLERA: Well, they certainly --

They can report it.

They can report and file with the department of administration, and I am told that there is an investigation that's being underway by the department of administration, to look into these things. But again, the thing that I am hearing from staff, both internally and externally, that are close to the department, are saying that that's kind of silly. Those arguments, those accusations are not legitimate.

TED SIMONS: Board of education, department of education, are they often adversarial? Are there often fights?

JAMES MOLERA: No. No. I've been involved with the Arizona's education, state policy, since 1994. And I have never seen an environment quite like this, where you have a state board that really is not trying to be hostile to miss Douglas, not trying to look for open warfare, and all of these individuals are trying to -- and they are volunteers, mind you. This is a volunteer position. And you know, I don't think that they like the public scrutiny, and I don't think that they like there acrimony taking place. They just want to do their jobs, and it's unfortunate that it has gotten to this point. We are reading about these stories as opposed to them looking at the education policy.

TED SIMONS: There are critics who, and critics, I mean, just a general populous looks at this and says this is a waste of public resources, this whole thing is ridiculous. Valid?

JAMES MOLERA: Absolutely, absolutely, there is so many things that we need to be looking at and doing on behalf of the public education, and I think that's what the Governor is trying to say, the Governor is saying, look, superintendent, state board, we need to start working together because we have some big things that we have to tackle. And for us to be dealing with this silliness is just that, silly.

TED SIMONS: If Diane Douglas tries to fire these folks again, would you be surprised?

JAMES MOLERA: Based on the actions, based on these accusations that's been levied by her and her staff, no, I would not be surprised. I would be disappointed. But, I would not be surprised.

TED SIMONS: And last question, we were talking about the department of education, board of education, why are you -- we inferred this earlier, do they overlap? Why are the two agencies necessary?

JAMES MOLERA: The state board of education is in our Arizona constitution, and they are charged with overseeing state standards, upsetting the standards for teachers and principals, and all the teacher certification processes fall under the purview of the state board, and when the teachers get disciplined, ultimately the state board of education can revoke teacher, licenses for bad behavior. All of that rests under the authority of the state board of education. The department of education is more, I would liken it to an administrator. They added Federal funds coming in, title one funds, and special education funds. And career and technical education dollars. They are supposed to oversee the funds at the, that the state legislature provides, and they have a school finance unit, and they also help with staffing on the assessments and everything that's under the purview of the state board.

TED SIMONS: So if you are keeping, so the board of education, in terms of the policy, more power than superintendent of public instruction, and if that were the case, the governor, who kind of gets to choose on the board of education, more power than the superintendent of public instruction in terms of the education.

JAMES MOLERA: Well, absolutely. Even when I was the superintendent, I said my power is in the bully pulpit of trying to convince the state board of education of the proper policy and what I felt was needed in order to further Arizona's education system. That's the power of a superintendent.

TED SIMONS: All right. Very interesting stuff. Good to have you here and thanks for joining us.

JAMES MOLERA: Always fun to be here.

Jaime Molera:Past State Board of Education Member and Superintendent

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