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Caseload Unmanageable For Those Investigating Arizona Teachers

Arizona Department of Education building
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
Arizona Department of Education building in downtown Phoenix.

Closing a loophole in Arizona law that prevents state investigators from disciplining non-certified teachers and school employees would exacerbate the overwhelming caseloads tracked by only a handful of investigators.

David Spelich, chief of a four-person unit within the Arizona Department of Education that investigates misconduct allegations against teachers, said his investigators must already track between 120 to 150 cases at a time.

Superintendent Kathy Hoffman sought to address that caseload in an August budget request. Hoffman asked Gov. Doug Ducey to double the number of staff on the investigative unit.

The $556,000 request would fund four new investigators and one administrative staffer.

“Hence the reason we’re here today, is to desperately ask for help and more investigators for the unit, because we’re drowning as far as how many cases we all have to handle,” Spelich told the governor’s task force on justice for victims of child sexual abuse on Thursday.

But the request would need to be amended if state legislators follow through with a request from the Arizona Board of Education, which wants to close a loophole that allows investigators to track only certified teachers. 

There’s no system in place, or mechanism allowed in state law, that allows ADE to investigate non-certified teachers and other school employees. Alicia Williams, executive director of the Board of Education, told lawmakers on the task force staff is crafting a bill to change that law.

Spelich has no objection to expanding the scope of investigations. But doing so would likely double the number of cases his investigative unit handles, he said.

That means a staff of eight investigators would merely maintain the status quo of each investigator handling over 100 cases, rather than alleviate the caseload as Hoffman intended.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, told reporters that he’s fighting to increase staffing on the investigative unit to 10 or 12 investigators.

Boyer acknowledged even that won’t suffice if the loophole is closed.

“I don’t think it would be enough,” Boyer said. “So I want to have a one-on-one with the department, with the board, and figure out what is the magic number so I can start lobbying for it when I have my budget meetings … It’s definitely more than 12, if we open it up.”

The task force meeting came after KJZZ and the Arizona Republic released " A Position of Trust," a series that exposed loopholes in state law when it comes to educator discipline and sexual misconduct in schools. Lily Altavena has been reporting on this series for the Republic, and she joined The Show to discuss the situation.

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Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.