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All the old tricks for SF104

Jan 27, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

If only legislators applied this level of cunning to actually solving problems rather than fulfilling vendettas.

The usual glacial speed that the Wyoming legislature is renowned for was quickly abandoned as a few disgruntled legislators decided to "teach" State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill a lesson.

All the practices that cause many people to detest politicians were used with expert skill. Then again, that's what you have to do when you're trying to hide your actions in the bright light of a public forum.

There are a few fascinating ploys that the "good ol' boys" in Cheyenne have played with the utmost arrogance, disgust and condescension to the Wyoming voter.

If only they applied this level of cunning to actually solving problems rather than fulfilling vendettas.

The amazing thing is that the Legislature and the governor intend to revamp education using the same group of hand-picked "experts" (consultants) that have been wringing dollars out of the state coffers for the last 15 years.

The truth is that the Wyoming Department of Education was an organization filled to the brim with dubious bureaucrats when 113,000 Wyoming voters elected Hill in 2010. Many of them quickly departed their formerly cozy positions once it became evident that they would have to work with children and teachers.

The "good old days" of sending an e-mail out late Friday afternoon and demanding a mandated report by the following Tuesday morning ended with Hill's victory over Jim McBride in the Republican primary a few months before.

It was not a good time for an entrenched bureaucrat. As a result many of them quickly left the WDE. With Hill's arrival the gravy train wasn't just slowing down, it was about to be derailed completely.

One of these experts charged the people of Wyoming $110 an hour since her initial contract back in 2005. The $430,000 she received in various contracts over a two year period made her the highest paid person, apparently, in the Wyoming public sector (aside from Wyoming head football coach Dave Christensen of course)

She, along with several other high-pay, low performance experts were discovered, had their contracts lowered or terminated completely, and formed a disgruntled, albeit still politically connected, lot.

And the saga began.

The former WDE employees contacted their friends and relatives in Cheyenne and began the two-headed process of getting their jobs back and getting even with Superintendent Hill for simply doing what she said she would do -- backed by the voters of Wyoming.

Their collective actions could be used as a guidebook on how to blur the truth, cover your tracks, and lay blame so thick it would take heavy equipment to move it.

An old saying goes "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."

They started by claiming Hill's department ignored deadlines and lost the state millions of dollars. Funny thing is that when confronted in an open hearing, the "expert" consultant, Ruth Sommers, admitted she made "formatting errors" and stated that there were no missed WDE deadlines. I've heard the audio.

That fact was missed completely by the "good ol' boys."

Audits were used as a weapon during McBride's administration, and their annoyance factor is perhaps the greatest weapon those in power can use. So, the WDE was audited after State Sen. Hank Coe and others claimed misappropriations of funds. In most cases only a fraction of budget is examined, but this audit took a look at every aspect of the $20 million WDE budget.

The result? The auditors praised Hill's department for keeping such clear and accurate records.

They found $36,000 in accounts the auditors thought should be in other areas, but nothing was missing.

Guess what the "good ol' boys" did with this information? If you said nothing, you win the prize.

The propagandists claim student test scores have fallen while Hill is in office. Not true. Statewide PAWS results from the 2012 exam indicate growth. The critics evidently suffered group amnesia with the 2010 PAWS that was so fraught with mistakes that McBride's administration had to beg the U.S. Department of Education for an exemption as the infamously mismanaged test imploded yet again. Yep, they missed that one too.

But the really impressive step the "good ol' boys" took was to have the government re-hire the militant handful of terminated and disgruntled former WDE employees under the guise of the Wyoming Board of Education.

Their collective cost -- more than $1 million a year -- wasn't intended to improve your son's or daughter's education.

The purpose was to generate distrust, to try to keep Hill from working with teachers and students, and to pave the way for out of state "experts" to come in with lucrative contracts and "save" the state.

The process worked to a charm in the Wyoming Senate. SF104 passed three readings quicker than any bill in recent history. Because no funds were attached to the bill and its stated purpose was for education, you would think it should go to the house education committee.

Guess again.

The bill's success in that committee couldn't be guaranteed, even though the House sponsor, Rep. Matt Teeters of Lingle, couldn't win over his own committee.

So the "good ol' boys" sent the bill to the House Appropriations Committee. No money attached, nothing fiscally to consider, but a definite slam dunk to get the bill with a "do pass" recommendation to the entire House.

More brilliant gamesmanship on display.

The people of Wyoming should be beyond angry, and many are.

Letters to the editor, e-mails and phone calls to representatives and conversations around the state are doing little to slow this insidious legislation.

The bill was introduced so it could be passed quickly and implemented with the hope that a two-year hiatus until the next election will be enough for Wyoming's voters to forget the "Chicago Style" strong arming that circumvented their electoral rights.

We can only hope our collective memory makes it to the November ballot box in 2014.

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Legislature, Wyoming