The state has denied allegations made in the Gilbert Unified School District’s lawsuit that claims the state’s Career Ladder Program is unconstitutional.
The school district filed a lawsuit Oct. 1 in Maricopa County Superior Court claiming that the district is at “a disadvantage in attracting and retaining good and experienced teachers” because of exclusion from the Career Ladder Program, a performance-based compensation plan for teachers.
The defendants — the state, the Department of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne — stand by the Career Ladder Program, as noted in their response to the lawsuit.
“Career Ladder is an effective way to promote continuous professional development by teachers,” Horne said.
He said as an elected official, it’s his duty to defend the law passed by the Legislature.
“I’ve seen other public officials throw in the towel about lawsuits because of their views as to what the Legislature might have done, and I believe that’s wrong and I would never do that,” Horne said.
According to the lawsuit, the Career Ladder Program violates the Arizona Constitution’s requirement that the state’s school-financing scheme be general and uniform.
The program benefits 28 of the state’s 237 school districts, including Apache Junction, Chandler, Kyrene and Mesa.
Gilbert schools Superintendent Brad Barrett said the state’s response, received by the district last week, encourages the district to move forward and reaffirms its position that the Career Ladder Program is unconstitutional and unfair.
“Here we are in the midst of a very competitive environment,” Barrett said. “Our teachers need to be compensated equally.”
The Gilbert school district claims that when the Career Ladder Program was created in 1985, expansion of the program statewide was envisioned, yet the Legislature hasn’t appropriated more funding since 1994.
The district asked in October 2006 to be included in the program but was told by the Department of Education that money wasn’t available. Gilbert also unsuccessfully sought to have the 2007 Legislature appropriate additional funds for the program, the lawsuit states.
Clyde Dangerfield, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and legal services, said the next step is to file a motion for summary judgment, which asks the judge to rule on the lawsuit. The judge can make a decision as a matter of law, or decide to bring the suit to a trial.