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Bill would remove voters from state education, Hill warns

Jan 14, 2013 - By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

The ongoing battle between State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill and a handful of state senators and representatives escalated Friday afternoon with Hill calling for her opponents to follow established law if they really wish to reduce the office to a ceremonial post through legislation and create an appointed education department head.

"I suggest that if you really want to deprive the people of a vote for superintendent, then be direct about it. Do it correctly -- simply remove the office by amending the constitution." Hill said.

The remarks came as Senate File 0104 rolled through two Wyoming Senate committees Friday in a textbook display of "fast-tracking."

The bill would not eliminate the state superintendent's position, which is mandated by the Wyoming Constitution, but it would render Hill and her successors meaningless in the administration of state education policy, which would be transferred to the newly created executive.Hill was elected by a wide margin in 2010, having first defeated incumbent Republican Jim McBride in the primary election.

"Let me start by saying that I always welcome rational, robust discussion, even on what might at first glance appear to others as a personal attack," she said in remarks to the Senate Education Committee on Friday morning.

"I realize this is a serious issue affecting all future superintendents and all of the voters of Wyoming. Perhaps similar legislation will affect treasurers, auditors, secretaries of state, or even governors... The real issue for you to discuss -- and then to explain to your constituents -- involves why the legislative branch supports removing the powers and authority of a state elected official, who represents all of the people of the state, including those too young to vote, and instead entrusts the educational system in the hands of an appointed bureaucrat."

The intent of the bill is to make the state superintendent a figurehead position with no power. It would preserve the constitutional requirement of a superintendent elected in a statewide election, just as the other four statewide offices are currently elected.

"Some of you might argue that the pending legislation does not remove the 'office' but only changes the duties. I would say to you this simple fact: Ceremonial titles are just that - ceremonial. They have little value; a person possessing one has little ability to accomplish the work or to bring about change," Hill said.

"If the people are voting for a State Superintendent of Public Instruction it is because they honestly believe that person can accomplish the job.

"If you strip away the power to get the work done, you have stripped away the voice of the people. A vote for a future elected, but ceremonial, statewide official will become a null act, an exercise in futility."

Hill continued to outline the differences between an elected state official, responsible to all the citizens of Wyoming, even those too young to vote and an appointed bureaucrat.

If Senate File 0104 is passed into law, the governor would choose an education "CEO" from three candidates selected by the state board of education.

The governor appoints all members of the state board already, so the effect of the legislation would be to pass the duties of K-12 education in Wyoming directly to the governor's office through a slate of appointed positions and out of the hands of Wyoming voters.

"Elected officials must listen and be responsive. Each statewide elected official is responsible to all of the people of the state - not a few, not just the select," Hill said. "This is why my phone number is published and why I return every call as soon as possible.

"A bureaucrat responds only to his or her immediate supervisor," she added. Elected officials accomplish the goals entrusted to them. Appointed bureaucrats too often simply check the boxes and then go home."

Winning a statewide election demonstrates the ability to organize support, to clarify tasks and to get work accomplished, Hill said. Not all appointed bureaucrats can successfully transition to this level of action.

"Elected officials are dedicated. I suppose it should be clear by now that I am passionate about my work and about how everything I do must be viewed as improving the educational system of Wyoming. ... I refer to this as personal commitment. It is what I require of my staff and what they have pledged to me - that they are personally committed to improving instruction for the benefit of all of our children," Hill said.

An appointed bureaucrat may have a different set of priorities."

The bill was passed out of the Education Committee on a quick 5-0 after Hill finished speaking, and later was recommended 4-1 by the Senate Appropriations Com-mittee. It has an inital appropriation of $500,000.

It next goes before the full Senate.

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Legislature, Wyoming