Bill strips Wyoming schools chief of duties

2013-01-10T11:35:00Z 2013-02-06T09:29:09Z Bill strips Wyoming schools chief of dutiesThe Associated Press The Associated Press
January 10, 2013 11:35 am  • 

CHEYENNE — The role of the statewide elected superintendent of public instruction would be greatly reduced under a proposed bill that would remove the superintendent as head of the state Department of Education.

Senate File 104, which was introduced Thursday, would create a new director of the agency who would be appointed by the governor.

The legislation is sponsored by both chairmen of the state House and Senate education committees and is co-sponsored by all majority and minority legislative leaders.

The measure shows the depth of distrust lawmakers have for Superintendent Cindy Hill's administration of the Education Department, especially when it comes to education overhauls. Some lawmakers say her administration has hindered the effort and set it back years.

Hill, a Republican who was elected about two years ago, was critical of the proposal.

"I serve as the voice of the people and this bill would take away their voice and it replaces the voice of the people with an appointed bureaucrat," she said.

Supporters of the bill say the aim is to limit politics in complicated public education issues.

"Education issues should not be political in nature," Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle and chairman of the House Education Committee, said in a statement. "The time has come to take personal politics out of the education equation."

The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Friday morning on the bill.

The superintendent of public instruction is currently one of five statewide elected officials. The others are the governor, secretary of state, auditor and treasurer. The Wyoming Constitution entrusts the superintendent with "general supervision of the public schools" but specifies that the job's duties and powers must be prescribed by law, which the Legislature determines.

Other major state agencies, such as the Transportation, Game and Fish and Health departments, are run by appointed directors.

Under the proposal, the superintendent's main education duties would include preparing an annual report for the Legislature on the general status of public schools and administering the teacher of the year award. The new agency director would join the superintendent as a nonvoting member of the State Board of Education, which helps set state public education policy.

Even if the bill is made law, the superintendent would keep other various duties, such as remaining a voting member on the state building commission, land board and loan and investment board along with the other statewide elected officers.

"She still has her constitutional obligations of being an elected official," said Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

SF104 transfers all Education Department divisions, agencies, programs, positions, personnel, property, budgets and functions to the new director. The law would take effect when passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Matt Mead.

Mead would be required to "immediately" appoint an interim director to oversee transfer of the department's administrative duties and then appoint a director by Dec. 1.

In a statement released by his office, Mead did not reject or endorse the proposed measure.

"This is an important first step and I look forward to the debate over the coming weeks," he said. "I appreciate leadership of both parties coming together to offer a solution. This would be a significant change and add a lot to the duties of the Governor's Office, but I recognize that students, parents and teachers want accountability and resolution."

A legislative liaison report this fall was highly critical of the Education Department's work on education overhauls, which aim to better prepare Wyoming students for college and careers.

The report said Hill's agency failed in some of its responsibilities and hindered other entities involved in the state's initiative. Hill in turn criticized the consultants who prepared the report and denied its findings.

Lawmakers also have taken issue with Hill redirecting money they appropriated to different uses within her department without legislative approval.

Hill has defended her agency's work on education reform and on other education issues, noting that student test scores in the state have risen during the last two years and that she has refocused the agency to better help teachers and schools instruct children.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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