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The absurd story of SF 0104

Feb 10, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

And the legislators actually wonder why their approval ratings are so low.

The recent series of columns on the heavy-handed treatment of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill have elicited more reader reaction than anything I've written in my 18 years a weekly columnist for in this newspaper.

People always ask me the same question: "What's really going on?" It comes at the post office, at ball games, in the supermarket, and even at church. I've had numerous phone calls and e-mails on the subject as well.

I wish there was a clear answer, but the proponents of this plan have done their best to obstruct the truth and cover their tracks.

To the best of my ability, and with the resources that are available I'll try to clarify, what is a very murky picture -- but remember, it is murky by the design of its architects.

The story starts in the darker days of Jim McBride's tenure as state superintendent. While students, teachers and schools were always put on the back burner at the WDE during these years it was a boon for consultants.

A cabal of these professional "experts" found fertile ground in generating endless reports that took time and finances from local districts but raised their consulting fees to extravagant levels.

Here is a sampling of the pillaging that was going on when Wyoming's version of "carpetbaggers" descended on the hallowed halls of the Hathaway Building.

How about $250 for attending meetings? That's $250 an hour, $2,000 a day, just to attend a meeting. Need part-time work? Try $430,000 over five years for another consultant. It sure beats running a paper route. The lowest negotiated rate came in at a paltry $110 an hour, the highest $312 per hour for writing policies -- and, no, the person was not an attorney.

These contracts made these people the highest paid on the state payroll exclusive of Larry Shyatt, Joe Legerski and, of course, our highest-paid state official, Dave Christensen, all University of Wyoming head coaches.

The outrageous sums should be enough to garner suspicion, but the fact that these people didn't teach a single child, coach a team, drive a bus, mow a lawn, or make lunch is ridiculous, which is the nicest word I can find for it.

The saga continues into the 2010 primary election, where challenger Cindy Hill destroyed incumbent Jim McBride by a nearly two-to-one margin. The Legislature evidently has forgotten that 47,000 Wyoming citizens supported the change candidate over the status quo in the primary election, something that had happened only one other time in the 120 years of Wyoming elections.

With Hill's overwhelming defeat of Democrat Mike Massie in November, the mandate of the people was clear. It was time for a change in education, a change from an unapproachable agency committed to compliance and paperwork and ignoring service, to one of aiding instruction and improving the lives of Wyoming children.

Naturally, the cadre of consultants got nervous. They should have been. None of them was terminated but they were required under the new administration to bid for their positions just like everyone else in an RFP process. The problem came in the dollars set aside for their positions. The salad days were over. Making $100,000 or $200,000 a year wasn't going to happen. Their prospective compensation ranged from $70,000 to $90,000, just like everyone else. Added to the diminished salary was the mandate that they would actually have to leave Cheyenne from time to time and work with the students and teachers of Wyoming.

They couldn't take it. They all quit.

Amazingly, however, every one of them found a position with the State Board or Education or the Legislative Service Office in short order -- and at nearly the same outrageous rates as before.

Their collective job was to report on the status of the Wyoming Department of Education. Who was surprised when the vultures began circling and making inaccurate, exaggerated and unsubstantiated statements about Hill's administration? What did the Legislature and governor expect? Exactly what they received. That's why they placed these people in those positions.

We switch to the Legislature, where a couple of key members openly despised Hill from the moment she won the office. With little or no hard evidence against here, a well-orchestrated "whisper campaign" began in the Senate, with a similar back-door effort to accompany it in the House.

Senate File 0104, the bill that changed the state superintendent's status to become purely ceremonial, flew through the Senate and then the House in record time. Incidentally, a similar bill calling for an elected state board of education, leaving at least some voice for the voters in public education, died because "there just wasn't enough time to get it through." Convenient, isn't it?

When the bill left the Senate it obviously was an education issue with little or fiscal requirements, but House leaders realized it probably wouldn't clear the education committee. So it was sent to the House Appropriations Committee instead, even though there were no appropriations to consider.

Then, in a crowning moment of absurdity, appropriations chairman Steve Harshman acknowledged he knew nothing of the issues with the bill and turned it over to a guest chairman. If you guessed Rep. Matt Teeters, chairman of the education committee, you should probably head to the casino right now. Yes, the education chairman ran the appropriations meeting.

The legislation passed in a testament to treachery, vengeance, and just about any other vice you can imagine.

And they wonder why their approval ratings are so low.

But that's not the end of the story. The overpaid consultants now wait pensively, vying for the new CEO position SF 0104 created. Imagine the carnage if the governor chooses one of them.

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Legislature, Wyoming