Supt. Hill testifies against bill to appoint Director of Education Department

By Gregory Nickerson
January 11, 2013

This morning Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill (R) testified that Senate File 104 would strip away the powers of the office and make the position she holds largely ceremonial.

The committee voted unanimously to approve the legislation, which will now be introduced to the Senate Committee of the Whole. The file must pass two readings before moving to the House to repeat the process.

The legislation would transfer the duties of the superintendent to an appointed director selected by the Governor. The director would be selected from a slate of three candidates chosen by the board of education, which is also appointed by the Governor.

Senate File 104 comes with a fiscal note that would appropriate $500,000 to the governor’s office to hire the director and oversee the transition of duties. The law would go into effect immediately upon signing by Gov. Mead. For full text of the 66-page bill, click here.

Superintendent Hill’s testimony centered on the superior leadership characteristics of elected officials in contrast to appointed bureaucrats. She characterized elected leaders as responsive, innovative, dedicated risk takers, while saying some bureaucrats can be risk averse, unresponsive to public needs, lacking in innovation, and not necessarily as dedicated to the task of improving instruction for children.

Hill also said elected officials are more accountable than bureaucrats. “In the case of an elected official the people of the state — through the ballot box — decided who to keep and who to return to private life,” Hill said. “This is not so for bureaucrats, who too often merely float from one position to another, never fully enjoying their success, but never bearing the consequences of failure.”

Senate Education Committee Chairman Hank Coe seemed unengaged with Hill’s comments, opening and sipping from a can of V8 juice while she spoke. The hearing took place in a large, crowded hearing room on the ground floor of the Herschler Building.

One of the major points of opposition to SF 104 is that it would legislatively remove the powers of superintendent position, a position created by the Wyoming State Constitution.

Article 7 section 14 of the state constitution states, “The general supervision of the public schools shall be entrusted to the state superintendent of public instruction, whose powers and duties shall be prescribed by law.”

Senate File 104 leaves general supervision of the schools under the superintendent, while changing the powers and duties of the position defined by law. Hill suggested that the transfer of duties should not happen legislatively, but through a constitutional amendment approved by voters.

“I suggest that if you really want to deprive people of a vote for Superintendent, then be direct about it. Do it correctly – simply remove the office by amending the constitution,” Hill said. “Let us engage in the discussion and then allow the people to decide. I trust them. Do you?”

Following Hill’s testimony, the committee heard testimony from Becky Vandeberghe of WyWatch and former Representative Amy Edmonds, who now works for Wyoming Liberty Group. Both advocates spoke against the legislation on the basis that an appointed director for the Department of Education would not necessarily represent the will of the voters.

Vandeberghe objected to the power the governor would wield in appointing a director of schools from a slate of candidates identified by the board of education, which the governor also appoints. She proposed instead that members of an elected board of education appoint the director. Such a process would, “Give the people a voice,” she said.

Edmonds said the bill highlights severe dysfunction in the educational system, and called for real reforms like creating more charter schools, an initiative backed by Wyoming Liberty Group. She called the senate file a bad bill, saying, “People need more representation, not less.”

Bill Schilling, President of the Wyoming Business Alliance, spoke in favor of the bill, calling it a management decision that would address structural issues in education.

Barely twenty minutes after the committee meeting began, testimony ended and the committee moved the bill with no discussion and no amendments. The file received unanimous approval, evidence that the committee had already discussed the file for months in the interim.

Members of the Senate Education Committee include Chairman Hank Coe (R-Cody), Sen. Jim D. Anderson (R-Glenrock), Sen. Paul Barnard (R-Evanston), Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper), and Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie).

Gov. Mead commented on the policy changes of SF 104 saying, “This is an important first step and I look forward to the debate over the coming weeks. 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.”

Gov. Mead has noted that last year’s reform efforts resulted in parsing out of Department of Education duties among the Superintendent, the legislature, and the Governor’s office. This made none of the three entities fully accountable for the performance of state schools.

The full text of Supt. Hill’s comments is available as a pdf here.

For a full report on efforts to reform the Department of Education, read Geoff O’Gara’s piece Lawmakers in the Classroom: The Battle for Wyoming’s Schools that appeared in WyoFile’s Legislature 2013 series.

Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.

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Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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