Corporation Commission Controversy

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Newly-obtained e-mails reveal that Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump may not have been telling the truth about the phones or devices he had during controversial communications with Arizona Public Service. Ryan Randazzo, who is reporting on the matter for the Arizona Republic, will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon." More questions regarding the corporation commission, this time involving misinformation on public records requests. And we'll talk about the increasing shortage of school teachers in the state. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon".

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The contempt of court hearing against Sheriff Joe Arpaio continued today with Arpaio's chief deputy saying that he doesn't remember hearing about court orders that he and Arpaio admittedly violated. Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan testified that he likely received but did not remember opening any email involving a preliminary injunction that blocked the MSCO's illegal immigration enforcement. The sheriff's department continued that enforcement for a year and a half after being ordered to stop, but Sheridan today maintained that the violation was inadvertent and not willful. Another day, another troubling revelation regarding the Arizona corporation commission. The latest incident involves the commission responding to a public records request with inaccurate and incomplete information. Ryan Randazzo of "Arizona Republic" broke the story. He joins us now. Good to have you here. Thanks for being here. Omitting emails on a public records request and more?

RYAN RANDAZZO: Well, these guys are under so much scrutiny right now, every media outlet in the state is trying to figure out what Bob stump was texting last year during the election, and was he helping to coordinate outside political spending to get two other commissioners elected. They know they're facing scrutiny. They had what should have been a routine request from the checks and balances in Washington, D.C., and they did not fulfill the request. They didn't turn over all emails that were being sought. Checks and balances asked again, and the second time they asked, they got more records. It is a black eye. It shows incompetence somewhere that they didn't answer the question the first time.

TED SIMONS: Incompetence or something else, what kind of response are we getting from the Corporation Commission?

RYAN RANDAZZO: Two days after we brought this to their attention, they still don't have an excuse to why they didn't fulfill the request on the first time. I think most reasonable people would forgive an innocent mistake, if that is what this was. But they don't have a reason why these emails weren't turned over the first time. Then when we did see the emails in the second response, we learned that we had been given misinformation for months about what type of phone commissioner stump used. You have all of these media outlets trying to access what he sent from his iPhone 3 and we learned that he didn't have an iPhone 3. Possibly all of the records requests media outlets have sent have been misdirected to the wrong phone.

TED SIMONS: Some people say who cares if it is an iPhone 3 or 4, it is a phone and that is gone, isn't it?

RYAN RANDAZZO: Yeah, he threw that thing away. That is part of the trouble. We can't access text messages that he sent from that. They would be a government document. Should be subject to review through state public records law. He threw the phone away. The next phone is in the possession of the attorney general's office for inspection related to a different investigation of the commission. We are all waiting to see if they can retrieve some of the deleted text messages on that phone.

TED SIMONS: Now also, you are reporting that a tablet, air card that connects a laptop to the internet, other devices should have been at least reported in the public records request and they weren't?

RYAN RANDAZZO: They probably should have been disclosed. The commission hired an outside attorney to respond to the records request earlier this year. They brought in outside help to do this properly. That attorney has sent letters describing this iPhone 3 that apparently never existed and never mentioned that there was also a tablet and an air card. I don't know if there were separate messages sent from those devices that the media should now be looking for. We are all confused about why we were given misinformation for months from the commission regarding which devices he used.

TED SIMONS: Penalty for not properly complying to the public records request --

RYAN RANDAZZO: Someone could sue for attorney's fees. Checks and balances, they have an attorney working for them and have filed 15 or so record requests. They have never gotten the records they sought. I am surprised they have not gone seeking damages --

TED SIMONS: We have had you on the show a couple of times for this and we talk about this almost on a weekly if not daily basis. The Corporation commission, little-known agency, always kind of quiet doing its business there. It is just a mess, think that is the definition here. Give us an overview. We had commissioner Bob Burns on last night. He wants to get rid of the dark money aspect of it. That is one part of a big old quagmire.

RYAN RANDAZZO: It's something new every day, unfortunately. That is why they should have complied with this records request. You have five commissioners. Two of them are facing complaints at the attorney general's office, seeking removal from office because they're registered lobbyists. Bittersmith -- the second, Robert Burns. He said he was mistakenly listed as a lobbyist for a cable group, but he continues to be a registered lobbyist today. He said he has asked to be taken off of that list. At minimum, a technical violation of law. A complaint filed today seeking his removal. Other three commissioners face challengers that they are too biased to do their job and set rates for APS, because APS, state's biggest utility is thought to have helped two of them win office. Finally, Commissioner Stump has his issue with text messages being sought. We know he did text with APS officials and the candidates leading up to the election last year, and the solar industry has asked that he not participate in APS rate hearings either.

TED SIMONS: And you've got former commissioners coming out regarding the recused issue that people are biased and shouldn't be involved, another former commissioner involved with a cell phone incident -- I mean, we talk to commissioner Burns about this. The integrity of the commission seems to be at stake here. And it doesn't look good.

RYAN RANDAZZO: No, it is taking a beating. I think they're all quite aware of that and trying to address that while doing the job at the same time. That what makes what would normally be a small issue, this records request that was not complied with, that would normally not be a big deal. Considering the attention that is on them, they should have gotten this right.

TED SIMONS: We talked to Commissioner Burns before this complaint was filed. We did not know that when we had him on the air. He is now facing a complaint. Where does commissioner Bittersmith go from there, she has a couple of complaints against her. What's happening?

RYAN RANDAZZO: Particularly with Bittersmith, I don't believe that she is going to resign from office. She has been out front with what her side jobs are from when she started campaigning. She does not think that she does have an actual conflict of interest. Although many people from the outside who have started looking at this believe that she does have that conflict. So, it will be interesting to see how many people join the chorus asking her to leave office. Robert Burns, I think people tend to believe his story. No one filed a complaint until today and the person filing the complaint has been at odds with the commission for years over smart meters. He feels that the commissioners have been very biased towards APS in allowing them to install smart meters around the state. Now he sees this violation on Robert Burns and is seeking his removal.

TED SIMONS: I remember, I think this individual has been with the smart meter campaign for quite a while. As far as the idea that some commissioners are biased, what's next with that charge or complaint?

RYAN RANDAZZO: Well, I'm sure they will not recuse themselves from those votes. They campaigned to do a job. And that's the biggest part of their job is deciding the rates for the state's largest utility. I strongly doubt that they're going to recuse themselves. We will see what the commission staff says about that.

TED SIMONS: Last question, what -- how involved is the AG's office in all of this? What do they have right now? What are they going forward with?

RYAN RANDAZZO: I would be surprised if the AG office has time to do much else than investigate corporation commissioners right now. They have one phone, three different complaints to remove commissioners from office. We are all waiting to see if the attorney general is going to take these seriously.

TED SIMONS: Dictionary definition of a mess. Great reporting. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

RYAN RANDAZZO: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's look at Arizona education focuses on how the state is facing a teacher shortage and what can be done about it. Currently Arizona has about 1,000 teaching positions that need to be filled and a recent state Department of Education study shows an increasing number of teachers are leaving the state. Producer Shanna Fischer and photographer Ed Kishel show us how the teaching shortage is affecting one Phoenix elementary school.

SHANNA FISCHER: When students walk into this classroom for the first day of school, it will also be their teachers first day.

JADE MURRAY: This will be my first year teaching, and I am teaching first grade.

SHANNA FISCHER: After spending six years as an administrative assistant, she followed her heart and became a teacher.

JADE MURRAY: I am looking forward to just building that relationship with them and fostering that level of learning and trying to be like emulate those teachers that I had growing up. Because what I want is for when they look back and they think of school, that they think of, you know, first grade or they think fondly about the first years of school.

SHANNA FISCHER: But she also has some trepidation about what lies ahead.

JADE MURRAY: I think the thing that makes me the most nervous about my first year is just that unknown. I've done all of the school. I've done student teaching, all of these things, but now it is kind of like I'm being kicked from the nest and it is time for me to fly all by myself.

SHANNA FISCHER: While Jade will be there for her students, she has someone in her corner, too. Her principal Johnny Brownlie.

JOHNNY BROWNLIE: The challenges for a first year teacher are really the support, and knowing how to work through difficulties with either parents, but also getting to know the curriculum and feeling comfortable and confident with being able to deliver that to 30 children or 25 children who are all looking up to the teacher for guidance.

SHANNA FISCHER: Brownlie has two first-time teachers this year. Whispering Wind Elementary is fully staffed, the statewide teacher shortage has impacted the school.

JOHNNY BROWNLIE: This past year, we had a teacher who left our building and our school because of finances. Also we had explored opportunities with bringing in teachers from other states, and once those teachers found out how much schools in Arizona were able to offer her, she had to decline.

SHANNA FISCHER: And not only will it get harder to fill vacant spots, a recent Arizona Department of Education study shows it is getting harder to retain teachers. 24% of first-year teachers left their positions in 2014. Jade acknowledges the road ahead will have ups and downs, but she is determined to make a difference.

JADE MURRAY: I kind have always wanted to be a teacher because my elementary teachers when I was growing up were very nurturing and so when I look back on like my life, first and second grade were kind of like the pivotal years where I found a love of learning. And I also always wanted to do a job that meant something.

SHANNA FISCHER: Brownlie says the teacher shortage is not just an issue in the classroom and not just an issue that affects parents.

JOHNNY BROWNLIE: Truthfully, if we as a society want to rely on Social Security, things like that, we need an economy filled with skilled educated people. Whether they're a garbage man or whether they're some professor at ASU, we need people to have opportunity, and the only way that happens is if they do get a good education.

TED SIMONS: Joining us now to discuss Arizona's teacher shortage is Arizona education association president, Andrew Morrill. And Jennifer Johnson, the executive director of support our schools Arizona. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Good evening.

TED SIMONS: This business of the teacher shortage, why? What's going on out there? Why is this happening?

ANDREW MORRILL: Arizona policy direction over about the last six to eight years has put teachers on a very shaky four-legged stool. Just quickly, the compensation that is so bad teachers are paying to stay in the profession they love compared to earlier years of salary. Working conditions, which have removed supports at the same time we are heaping on expectations, in some cases very good expectations of students. Third, a toxic testing environment where too many decisions are being made tied to a single test score, and then a punish and perish evaluation system, does nothing to support better performance but punishing the easy few.

TED SIMONS: I want to get to each of those in a second. Do you agree are those major issues? I mean, lots of folks grow up wanting to be a teacher. And now we're finding that they become a teacher, they leave Arizona. What's going on with that?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Right. I would certainly echo Andrew's comments. I think certainly compensation is an issue when you think about the qualifications and the skillsets that Arizona teachers bring to the service in their classroom. Those are competitive skills they could market in other ways for far greater compensation. We have to come to grips with that in terms of competition. Secondly, we know that teachers need support. They deserve support in the classroom. With slashing school budgets, schools are finding it harder and harder to provide the necessary support. Absent the kind of support teachers get discouraged and frustrated when decisions are made around single test scores or evaluation systems that aren't fully developed or fully resourced. And, third, quite frankly from a parental perspective, it is about the level of public respect that we pay to the profession. Teachers never enter the profession hoping to get rich. They are willing to put up with the challenges and meet the expectations placed on them, but they want to do so in a community that values what they do.

TED SIMONS: How do you elevate the public perception of educators?

ANDREW MORRILL: I taught high school English for about 17 years, northwest side of Tucson in the Morena District. There are a number of ways. Engagement by the community. Talk to teachers. For folks to come into our schools, talk to teachers and ask what are the challenges that you're facing? Because something that the reformers don't normally understand or talk about, what is good for teachers and what's good for students in a classroom are virtually the same thing. Engaged parents, voting community members. Folks that attend governing board meetings, see what's happening in their schools. The other thing, we are going to have to apply principles in the private sector that are not often talked about. One of the things you do to raise value of a profession, you increase compensation, increase support. We have to apply principles of value the way we do in other professions.

TED SIMONS: What is the pay range for Arizona teachers? What are we looking at here, general terms?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Starting salary somewhere in the $30,000, $31,000, probably the highest paid, most experienced, highest credentialed teacher is somewhere in the $60,000 --

ANDREW MORRILL: One of the things that people don't think about. There are thousands and thousands of teachers in Arizona teaching more than 15 years. No comma in their paycheck. You think about that. They are 15 years or more in the classroom, there is no comma in that paycheck. What happens, the profession that they love, value-based profession, they leave in debt and they leave in tears and it's happened more than once that I have talked to a teacher that said I want to say because my kids need me. They're not talking about their own children. They're talking about the students in their classroom but they can't afford to stay in -- to stay in the profession.

TED SIMONS: Or they leave in tears or in frustration, or they just leave. How Arizona pay scale compare to other states?

ANDREW MORRILL: Bottom of the list. Bottom of the list. Which is appropriate, we're last in per-pupil funding, last in -- our own state economy that we apply toward public education. We are at the bottom of every good list, matching our rhetoric with how we try to retain them.

TED SIMONS: Classroom resources. Problems that teachers face there. Can that be improved?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: It can. I think with a -- a modest investment, we can devote more resources to the classroom, in forms of teacher mentors. We know that makes a tremendous difference in attracting teachers to the profession, and in keeping them in the classroom and protecting that investment. Materials, access to technology. Time is a resource. Time for teachers to work together in professional learning communities and do the kinds of things we want them to do.

TED SIMONS: Andrew mentioned a toxic testing environment. Talk about the testing requirements and impact of those requirements on teachers. We have heard teachers -- are teachers able just to give a well-rounded education these days?

ANDREW MORRILL: I can tell you what it felt like. I started teaching in 1988. I was elected into an office to represent the profession in 2004. Over that amount of time, and especially after no child left behind, fewer and fewer decisions were made in the classroom. Fewer and fewer decisions made by governing boards which are elected out of the community of taxpayers, one of the essential principals of a district public school, more were made at the state level and federal level and more were tied to standardized test scores.

TED SIMONS: We keep moving here regarding the teachers coming and going. There are a lot of older teachers who are ready to retire, correct?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Correct. Over 25% of the current educators in Arizona are eligible to retire in less than four years.

TED SIMONS: Impact, the lack of experience of teachers coming in.

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Huge issue.

ANDREW MORRILL: And alternative certification programs -- remember, two schools of thought. One says if you want to elevate the profession and increase retention, put supports in, do something with the compensation that is meaningful more than rhetorical. The other school of thought Arizona has played with, lower the bar, lower the qualification indicators, do away with certification, pretend it is a series of hoops rather than a set of quality indicators for who we want in our classrooms.

TED SIMONS: How do you go streamline, without losing perspective of what a teacher should be qualified to do?

ANDREW MORRILL: You compromise one of the essential qualifications. There are three. Academic mastery of the content area that you are teaching, proof that you actually know how to take that content area and teach it, and then a clinical supervision, we call student teaching or field experience. Some of those have to go in an alternative certification program. If you shorten, you shortchange.

TED SIMONS: Do you agree with that?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: I do. Arizona has tried alternative certification in the past with very little success. There are not long lines of people waiting to become teachers in Arizona. We have created an environment where it is very challenging for someone to actually publicly admit that I want to be a teacher. Alternative certification has been around. We have tried it. I was a superintendent, in fact, a high school principal at the time that the Arizona began to implement alternative certification. And there were not hordes of people coming in, and quite frankly when they did get in, without extraordinary efforts to support them, they didn't stay.

ANDREW MORRILL: This is really --

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Just bringing lots of new teachers in isn't the solution to the problem. It is bringing the right teachers in and being able to have an environment that keeps them in the classroom.

TED SIMONS: Doesn't that circle back to the public perception, again, people think teachers do X, Y, and, Z, in reality it is more of an A, B, C.

ANDREW MORRILL: Well one of the things everybody teaching for a number of years comes to be familiar with, most of the public went through schools and they retain a kind of expertise. Yes, I sat in classrooms -- but I kind of know what is involved in teaching, I kind of know what's involved with teaching. It has changed a great deal and changing rapidly now. The point Dr. Johnson is making bears repeating. Alternative certification programs bring people in faster but they don't stay because they lack some of the essential preparation.

TED SIMONS: We talked about some things that can be politically addressed. Certainly are being politically talked about now. Concept of more education, is it politically feasible right now to get that increased funding, and, if not, how do you move forward? How do you get better?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: I do think a substantial number of Arizona parents and Arizona taxpayers who don't have children in school are willing to make the investment that it takes to bring our teacher compensation in line, and to solve this problem. They are willing to make that investment and they want and expect their policy makers to make those decisions.

TED SIMONS: Do you agree with that?

ANDREW MORRILL: I do. The Gallop polling that came out recently said that one of the things parents say most is fund our schools, pay teachers what it takes to keep them. They know, just as they know their students are more than test scores, they know good educators in the classroom are what students need and voters in the year 2000 in Arizona said we want our districts to keep up with inflation costs, so they can at least keep their heads above water. We are in a lawsuit about that. Let's hope it resolves quickly and we put money where it needs to be.

TED SIMONS: Yes or no, Arizona is facing a crisis in education?

ANDREW MORRILL: Arizona is facing a shortage of people willing to teach under the current conditions. We actually have thousands of folks holding certificates, they are unwilling to teach in conditions that we have created.

TED SIMONS: Is that a yes or no?

ANDREW MORRILL: You decide.

TED SIMONS: Yes or no, are we facing a crisis in education here in the state?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Absolutely, absolutely. Classrooms not being filled by the kinds of teachers we aspire to have for our children and there are teachers who are leaving once the school year starts. Those are issues. There are solutions. It is not just about is there a crisis and the conversation stops there, there are solutions within our grasp.

ANDREW MORRILL: Thousands of teachers that are staying in the schools are part of the story. We have great folks. We need to keep them.

TED SIMONS: Thank you both so much. Good conversation. That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ryan Randazzo : Reporter Arizona Republic,

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