- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona’s top education official on Friday backed off from a brewing battle with Gov. Doug Ducey, saying she wanted to avoid a lawsuit to enforce her firings of two Board of Education executives that had been overturned by the governor.

The full board also voted Friday to order Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas to restore the email and office access to the executives by next Tuesday.

Douglas’ action marks a retreat from a volatile confrontation between her, the Board of Education and the governor. She had lashed out at Ducey after he overturned the firings on Thursday.

On Friday, she said she wants to work with him instead of wasting money on a lawsuit.

“I do not wish to spend precious tax dollars litigating who is responsible for the various operations or the staff of the Board of Education,” Douglas said at a late morning news conference. “Our focus needs to be on educating children and not disputing poorly written statutes.”

The governor was encouraged by Douglas’ statements, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said.

However, Douglas voted against a motion requiring her to restore access to the executives she fired at an afternoon meeting of the board. And she pointedly said she may not be able to comply with the board’s order that she restore access to board Executive Director Christine Thompson and Deputy Director Sabrina Vazquez in the time the board gave her.

“I cannot assure by 8:30 a.m. after a holiday weekend that my staff here will be able to make all these changes possible,” Douglas said. “But certainly I have to protect the Department of Education, and that’s what I intend to do.”

Douglas said she still she believed she had the legal authority to fire the board employees and wants the Legislature to act to clarify the law. Ducey had said his lawyers determined she had no legal authority to fire the board employees.

The board oversees state school policy and operates independently of the elected superintendent of public instruction, who runs the education department. Douglas is a board member because of her post.

Board president Greg Miller criticized Douglas for her actions.

“I’m very disappointed in the actions of the department and its untowardness toward our employees and trying to stop the action and work of the board,” he said. “I’m hoping as we go forward that some of the comments that you made at your press conference, Mrs. Superintendent, follow through to actual open communication and process between the two - as you happen to be the only one who participates in both.”

Douglas had lashed out at Ducey in a vitriolic press release Thursday, accusing Ducey of creating “a shadow faction of charter school operators and former state Superintendents who support Common Core and moving funds from traditional public schools to charter schools.”

She also said Miller stands to profit personally from Common Core and a new state assessment test the board adopted late last year. Miller is a charter school operator.

“I wasn’t personally offended because I took it as the rantings of someone who was under emotional stress,” Miller said.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who attended the board meeting, said of Douglas’ press release: “It was one of the most bizarre press releases that I’ve ever seen in my life - it was offensive in every respect, and today at least at her press conference she took a more conciliatory tone. That’s I guess what we’ll have to say is progress at this point.”

Douglas campaigned on her opposition to Common Core and has criticized the process in which the board chose the new test. She implied she would continue to fight with the board.

“This is a constitutionally elected office and was elected by people, the people of Arizona, so to have an unelected board reach in, I would just assure everyone out there that I will do everything within my power to protect the children and the citizens of the great state of Arizona,” she said to applause from a group of supporters.

Ducey and Douglas are both Republicans.

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