House lawmakers testify on education official

2013-01-23T23:30:00Z 2013-02-06T09:29:08Z House lawmakers testify on education officialBy JOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
January 23, 2013 11:30 pm  • 

CHEYENNE — Wyoming House Speaker Tom Lubnau on Wednesday said employees of the state Department of Education confided in him about an "atmosphere of secrecy and intimidation" in the agency when it was his turn to debate a bill to dramatically reduce the duties of the state superintendent of public instruction.

Lubnau said employees also told him that Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill openly said at a staff meeting that she had no intention of carrying out the education reforms mandated by the state Legislature.

He said Hill denied the employee's allegations.

The Republican from Gillette was among the more than 20 House members who spoke on the floor Wednesday about the measure. The debate lasted nearly two hours before a majority of members gave Senate File 104 preliminary approval. The bill is up for a second vote on Thursday. It needs three votes to pass the House. It previously passed the Senate.

Several members, including Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, said they were uncomfortable acting on a bill that was on such a fast track and had such serious ramifications for the state.

"Why is it going so fast?" Jaggi asked. "Why don't we have a little more time?"

Rep. Tim Stubson, R-Casper, is one of the bill's sponsors. He said it is being shoved ahead because the outcome will affect other education bills filed this session.

"We have done exactly what the process demands," Stubson said.

He noted the House Appropriations Committee heard every person who wanted to testify on the bill during a hearing Tuesday evening.

The bill would replace the superintendent of public instruction with a director of the Department of Education appointed by the governor. The change would happen this year, the third of Hill's four-year term.

Hill would retain her constitutional duties as a member of state boards and commissions. She would also be an ex-officio member of the state Board of Education and the School Facilities Commission, as specified by an amendment adopted by the House on Wednesday.

Stubson said Hill did not do as the Legislature requested in the Education Accountability Act.

Rep. Kendall Kroeker, R-Evansville, objected to making the change in the middle of Hill's term. If the Legislature waits until her term is over, he said, it will show that more than personality problems exists in the department.

Lubnau said the Legislature has clear constitutional authority over public schools and education.

"It's time for the muddling to end," Lubnau said.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, an attorney, protested that the debate was taking on an air of impeachment of Hill.

"If you believe your allegations are that strong, bring the impeachment," Gingery, who opposes the bill, said after the House left for the day.

Gingery reiterated his concern that SF 104 removes too much of the superintendent's constitutional general supervisory authority over the state's public schools. About 30 statutory duties of the superintendent would be transferred to the director.

He predicted the bill will provoke a fight in the courts.

Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, an attorney, said if the bill passes, it will have the presumption of constitutionality and will go into effect even if a lawsuit is filed.

Gingery said creating a new director of assessments, or testing, in the department would be a better solution.

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