There are over 90,000 certified public school teachers in Arizona.
The overwhelming majority of them work hard and do an exceptional job in educating the state’s children.
There are however a small fraction of this group (1140 so far in 2019) or less than one percent of the total number of teachers that have been referred to the Arizona Department of Education Investigative Unit for a number of reasons including breaches of contract, educational fraud, drug use, “assaultive behaviors,” and sexual offenses. These do not include the standard background checks and teacher recertification applications the division is charged with overseeing.
Those individuals who have been found to violate their certification are brought before the State Board of Education for possible suspension or revocation of their certificate. Certified Teachers who have committed offenses like sexual assault are also referred for criminal investigation, separate from the purview of the Education Department Investigative Unit.
Currently, there are only four investigators in the Arizona Department of Education Investigative Unit. At any given time during the year, according to the Department of Education Public Information Officer Stefan Swiat (and reaffirmed by the Unit Leader and former Chicago Homicide Detective David Spelich), each investigator “handles between 120 and 150 cases a day.” In comments to AZ Central, Mr. Spelich relayed that “It’s eye-opening the amount of misconduct that our agency looks at….It’s our utmost priority to make sure that none of us ever have to find out that a teacher slipped through the cracks… We are drowning as far as how many cases we have to handle…. Four investigators and the one admin is just to really keep our head above the water.”
With this current caseload and staff burden, investigations average close to a year to process. Some investigations last longer.
This is way too long where children’s safety is concerned.
Unfortunately, the 6,000 non-certified instructors teaching in classrooms are not currently under the jurisdiction of this already overburdened unit.
Mr. Spelich, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, and other Education leaders at the Education Department and Legislature want to remedy the current situation.
They are proposing adding over $500,000 to the Investigative Unit Budget that would double the number of investigators. This, according to Mr. Swiat would “cut the 286-day average time to resolve a came in half. That would put the unit at around 143 days, which would be around 4-5 months.” This would also bring the average caseload towards the more reasonable “50” per investigator.
Legislators were also advised that more staffing will be needed in the coming years as the number of investigations is forecast to increase.
In addition to the funding increase proposal, legislators are also considering new measures that would provide greater oversight for non-certified teachers and suspending instructors during the investigative process if the potential offense merits that step.
There should be no debate that children’s safety should be fully attended to everywhere at all times.
The State Legislature and Governor should see the wisdom in what Superintendent Hoffman and Mr. Spelich are proposing and enact the school funding requests for the Department of Education Investigative Unit as soon as possible when the State Government commences the legislative session in January.