Wyoming House committee advances schools superintendent bill

2013-01-22T12:05:00Z 2013-02-06T09:29:08Z Wyoming House committee advances schools superintendent billBy JOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
January 22, 2013 12:05 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Opponents of a bill to dramatically reduce the duties of the state superintendent of public instruction outnumbered supporters about three-to-one Tuesday evening.

Yet after a nearly two-hour public hearing, the state House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill.

The proposal, Senate File 104, now goes to the floor of the House for debate. It previously passed the Senate.

An overflow crowd attended the hearing.

The observers filled the committee room and nearly filled a large meeting room on the third floor of the Capitol.

Opponents claimed the bill wrongly targeted Cindy Hill, a Republican who was elected state superintendent of public instruction in 2010.

Legislative leaders have faulted Hill for failing to follow their directives, particularly their education accountability program.

But they claim the problem is longstanding and the result of tensions between the political and policy aspects of the educational system.

The bill would strip Hill of administrative responsibilities over the Wyoming Department of Education and leave only the role as a member of state boards and commissions.

The governor would appoint an Education Department director.

Hill has said the Legislature should adopt a constitutional amendment so voters could decide whether to change the duties of her office.

The bill's supporters say that will take too long and something needs to be done now.

Hill was the first of nearly 20 witnesses to testify against the bill Tuesday.

She said she has carried out the accountability work assigned by the Legislature.

Hill said if she missed any deadlines, she wasn't told what they were, nor has she been told what data is missing or incomplete.

The bill would just add more bureaucracy and make the situation worse, she said.

"We need to get together and do the work people elected us to do," Hill said.

Jerry Zellars is the public information officer for the Education Department. He said he took a day's vacation to testify against the bill.

The bill, he said, is a thinly veiled attempt to end-run the state constitution and is "fundamentally wrong."

Committee members pointed out that the Legislature has constitutional authority to make laws to provide for the public schools.

Parker Jackson of Lyman said the bill is an "easy way out for legislators who wish someone else had won the election."

Frank Smith, chairman of the Laramie County Constitution Party, said the bill represents a "bipartisan lynching."

Terry Powers, Platte County Republican committeeman, said the 64-page bill is a menu on how to create an "educational czar."

"You're taking away the voice of the person people elected as superintendent of public instruction," he said.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, also testified against the bill. He said it is possible to remove enough duties from the superintendent so that the official will no longer have general supervision over the public schools, as the Wyoming Constitution requires.

"I worry that this is going to turn into a court case and it will drag on for a while," Gingery said.

He also said that if the Legislature decided to change the duties through a constitutional amendment, it wouldn't be on the ballot until 2014 and could not go into effect until 2018.

Among those in favor of the bill were Bill Schilling, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance; Mary Ann Collins of McMurry Co. in Casper, and John Corra of FMC Corporation.

Schilling said the current system is not fixable.

Rae Lynn Job of Cheyenne, a former state senator and educator who worked on education bills that followed the Wyoming Supreme Court mandates, said that given the tensions inherent in the current system, it needs to be changed.

Roger Clark of Riverton is a former Education Department employee who said he quit in June 2011 in protest of Hill's management practices. He mentioned repurposing grant money for purposes other than originally intended.

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

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Deals & Offers

Featured Businesses