The education bureaucrat

May 30, 2013 By Steven R. Peck

In the aftermath of SF104, Wyoming has reached an important step

The unsavory episode that is leading to the creation of a new state education executive in Wyoming reaches a crucial point this week. Candidates for this new bureaucratic position are being interviewed Thursday and Friday in Cheyenne.

A big part of the task in choosing the person to try to clean up the mess created by the Wyoming Legislature's decision to remove the administrative powers from the elected Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction falls, at least officially, to the Wyoming Board of Education, a previously little-known body commonly called the state school board.

This group's duties largely were ceremonial until now, which ought to give its members some affinity with state Superintendent Cindy Hill, whose duties have been rendered largely ceremonial as well, thanks to a piece of legislation destined to become one of the most famous -- perhaps notorious -- in state history, Senate File 104.

The state school board members have been handed the responsibility of narrowing the list of applicants for the new education director and presenting those recommendations to Gov. Matt Mead.

State school board chairman Ron Micheli, himself a former candidate for governor, expressed more than a few misgivings about the board's sudden thrust into the state spotlight last winter. This is not what board members had bargained for when accepting the mostly honorary positions that they were given. That is not to say they aren't up to the task, just that they might well have preferred that it not be assigned to them. Certainly they never expected to have to do this.

It might not matter. Many, many insiders say that the state education director's position already has been filled for all practical purposes, meaning that the powers that be have their candidate in mind and that the process of winnowing finalists is as much for show as it is for procedure.

Few people know if that actually is true, but given the controversial history of SF104 and its aftermath, it is understandable that so many people would harbor this suspicion.

There has been some discussion as to whether and when the names of the top candidates for this new position would be made public. Within the past day or so, state leaders appear to have decided that at least some of the candidates' names will be revealed, and a public forum has been discussed so that Wyoming citizens can meet some of the finalists.

Those responsible for this controversy rarely deserve congratulations, but this is one case in which they do, because if ever a situation cries out for more openness, this is the one.

There remains a deep and widespread feeling of frustration and distress surrounding the hurry-up legislation and subsequent castigation of Hill that has led Wyoming to this point in its education leadership. If the new bureaucrat is to have any credence at all with the Wyoming public, then the handling of the appointment over the next few days is of almost indescribable importance relative to the issue.

Exactly why any qualified education administrator would want to step into this hornet's nest is a curiosity. To say that this new official will be under the microscope is an injustice to the scrutinizing power of microscopes. Perhaps the reported $220,000 annual salary will be enough to entice good candidates.

Micheli, the state school board chairman, made the news rounds this week saying that his board will do its best to find a good candidate, but not necessarily a transformational one.

"I think it's really important that whoever comes in needs to be able to have buy-in from the education community and is willing to work with them and not try to reinvent the wheel," Micheli said.

He's right. The reinvention of the wheel already has occurred through SF104. We'll soon find out how well it rolls.

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