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Bill would gut state superintendent's role in education

Jan 10, 2013 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

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, has said her agency has done everything required of it. She was not immediately available for comment Thursday, according to her spokesman Jerry Zellars.

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.

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 his annual state of the state speech to the Legislature on Wednesday, Mead reserved some of his most pointed words for the state's education system, noting frustration with "disputes that are not necessary" and wasting time and money wrangling with problems that should and can be avoided.

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.

In printed remarks to legislators on Tuesday, Hill criticized lawmakers for changing course repeatedly in recent years in equation policy and urged lawmakers to ere upon a policy that could remain in place for several years so that it could be fully implemented and assessed.

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Legislature, Wyoming