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Arizona schools chief suing Board of Education for control

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona’s schools chief moved her ongoing power struggle with the state Board of Education into court Friday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas filed a motion in Maricopa County Superior Court against the Board of Education, its president and its executive director. The filing asks a judge to clarify her authority over Board of Education employees.

The filing comes after 11 employees moved to other offices last week where they “answer to nobody but themselves,” Douglas said in court documents.

She is asking for a preliminary injunction to require they either move back or be fired.

Douglas said filing a lawsuit was a last resort.

“I did not want this conflict, which started when I first took office, and I have tried a number of different ways to resolve it,” Douglas said in a statement. “I believe I am legally correct, but I will abide by the court’s decision.”

At the same time, she said the suit would not become a distraction and she would continue to focus on improving education.

Board President Greg Miller said in a statement that the board authorized the move and it was done quickly in order to not be disruptive.

“The superintendent’s lawsuit is a distraction from that work. Arizona deserves better,” Miller said. “The board will continue to function as an autonomous constitutional entity and stay focused on the issue of ensuring educational excellence in Arizona public schools.”

A spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey did not immediately respond Saturday to a message seeking comment.

Douglas and the board have had a contentious relationship since she began her term this year. In February, she fired two board executives, including Executive Director Christine Thompson, who is named in the suit. But Ducey overturned the firings the next day, saying Douglas had no legal right to terminate them. Ducey said they work for the board and not the Arizona Department of Education, which Douglas leads.

Legislation designed to prevent future fights over who controls employees of the state Board of Education died in the Arizona House in April. Conservative lawmakers said the bill weakened the state school superintendent’s power.