A Maricopa County Superior Court judge removed Sandra Dowling as budget overseer of the Maricopa County Regional School District on Thursday and created a three-person governing board for that duty.
The judge’s action means Dowling no longer manages the district’s finances, although she remains the Maricopa County superintendent of schools even as she fights an indictment accusing her of theft.
Judge Kenneth Fields created the “receiver board” to get an accurate picture of the district’s finances, which has left teachers at the Thomas J. Pappas schools for homeless children without paychecks this month.
However, the teachers may soon get their checks. Late Thursday, the Arizona Department of Education agreed to release a funding advancement to the school district to pay the instructors.
Lisa Keegan, spokeswoman for the board of supervisors, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne would not release the money earlier this month because of the county schools’ current administration. Advances can be given only when a district has proven sufficiently that it will have the funds at the end of the year.
Horne approved the advance as soon as the new board was created.
“The district shouldn’t have run out (of money) in the first place,” Keegan said.
As county superintendent, Dowling was the sole member of the regional school district’s governing board and managed the district’s budget. She was recently indicted on suspicion of 25 crimes including theft and misuse of more than $1.8 million from a fund she controlled as superintendent.
The new board will review the district’s finances and report the findings to the judge, who will decide the district’s fate. Any money flowing through the district from now on will have to be approved by the panel and the judge.
Two panelists have been appointed: Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials and former business manager of Mesa Unified School District, and Nancy Haas, an education professor at Arizona State University West who is nationally known for her academic work relating to homeless education. The pair will choose the final board member.
No one opposed Essigs’ appointment, but the district’s lawyer, David Cantelme, and Pappas school officials and teachers strongly objected to Haas.
“You’re appointing the bitterest of opponents” of the Pappas schools, Cantelme told Fields. “You cannot appoint the executioner.”
Cantelme said Haas is against sending homeless students to a school apart from mainstream students.
“Hopefully, people will set aside their personalities and biases and set aside their past. Those kids already have enough challenges in their lives,” Essigs said. “They need adults sitting down in a thoughtful way and planning for their future.”