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Hill fires back at impeachment speculation by state lawmakers

Jun 25, 2013 - By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

She said the push to oust her is part of a move to 'federalize' education in Wyoming.

Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau of Campbell County has called for further action in the continuing debate over the results of an investigation of Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill initiated by Gov. Matt Mead as well as the outcome of a previous audit of the Wyoming Department of Education mandated by the Wyoming Legislature.

In an e-mail to members of the 62nd Legislature, Lubnau offered three options in an e-mail to legislators: 1. Do nothing; 2. Form a special committee to examine the issues and gather more information; 3. Call a special session of the Legislature to examine the issues and choose a course of action.

Lubnau favors formation of the special committee. He said impeachment of Hill is an option lawmakers would consider.

"Doing nothing, does not seem the appropriate remedy. This issue is important to the people of the State of Wyoming, and there is too much the legislative body does not know. As I understand it, there are 5,800 pages of backup material the Legislature has not seen. Additionally, there is a report that has not been released which we have not been able to review," Lubnau said in an e-mail to all House members.

"Calling a special session to examine issues and choose a course of action also is premature in my opinion. Acting without all of the information is premature. So, empaneling a special committee to examine the issues and gather more is, to me, the advisable course of action, for the following reasons: First, the people of the State of Wyoming deserve a full airing of all of the issues. A committee process where the witnesses can be called to testify, and the Supt. or her representatives have the right to ask clarifying questions, will lead to a full airing of the issues. Additionally, the Special Committee will have the opportunity to subpoena the additional report, and the 5800 pages of information."

Legislative e-mails

Responses to the e-mail from house members were varied and display the riff in the state Republican Party that the passage of the controversial SF0104 legislation has created.

The state has spent $400,000 on an audit and an special investigation of Hill's embattled regime. The audit mandated by the legislature in 2012 revealed a fiscally sound Wyoming Department of Education with a positive audit rating above 99 percent. The special investigation conducted by Rawlins attorney Catherine McPherson revealed inflammatory allegations, but much of it is based on innuendo and second- and third-hand anecdotes from less than 10 percent of the WDE staff.

The report has been given high credence by Lubnau and other Hill adversaries in the House and Senate.

"The majority of the Legislature has taken away much of the superintendent's staff, responsibilities, and finances with SF 104. I found many same people voicing their opinion in many of the 18 items mentioned in the large report," "Mr. Speaker gave three options," wrote Rep. Allen Jaggi of Lyman in a June 24 e-mail sent to all House members. "Leave things as they are or do nothing (remember, we have done volumes with the superintendent's responsibilities, so to do nothing means we have already done a lot), get another special committee with much more time and money to do what has already been don, plus try to gather more information, or call a special session the examine the volumes already gathered and decide what we should do.

"Or a fourth option is to turn over all of the information to a prosecutor to file any charges against the Superintendent that they would find in all the correspondence and reports...

"How beneficial would proceeding with more gathering information, taking lots more time, and spending lots more money be to the people of Wyoming?" Jaggi added.

'How beneficial would it be?'

With the governor and Legislature possessing nearly unlimited funds to continually investigate and audit Hill while stripping her office of most of its funding, the question of due process and equity was brought up by Rep. Garry Piiparinen of Evanston.

"I think there is yet another option, though, and that is giving this information to the judicial system and giving them the opportunity to decide whether or not there is adequate evidence to pursue any legal action. Let's let the justice system do what it suppose to do. My concern with a 'special [legislative] committee' is the possibility of the question of objectivity it may or may not be accused of having," Piiparinen said in a June 24 e-mail.

"I also have a concern with the David and Goliath availability of resources to present, as you put it, 'a full airing of the issues.' ... The Superintendent of Public Instruction has little to no resources to speak of in preparing her case when compared to the resources being used against her," he wrote. "I am sure you can appreciate the disparity between two conflicting sides in an argument when one side has more than adequate resources preparing its case and the other side having basically no resources to prepare its side. Can there really be a full, equitable and fair airing of the issues with this huge resource disparity?"

'I did not break the law'

Hill responded to the ongoing criticism of her office from a cadre of key legislators.

"The time has come for complete clarity on the key decisions facing the Wyoming Legislature," she said Monday. "Through the smoke screen of 'missed deadlines,' 'professional development funding,' 'accountability models,' or unhappy staff at a birthday party, we see that this is not about me as your present Superintendent of Public Instruction, but rather about the future of education in Wyoming.

"A full examination of the real evidence within the MacPherson Report reveals these remain as unfounded allegations: I did not break the law, I did not misuse funds, I did not misuse the state plane.

"Nonetheless," she continued, "it is important to note that the MacPherson Report does not even address the spurious claims raised by a few legislators to push forward SF 00104 in the first place: claims that deadlines were missed, allegations that accountability requirements were ignored, and accusations that improper professional development activities authorized by law were improperly continued. These remain inaccurate."

The original accusations of missed deadlines made by Ruth Sommers to the legislature later were withdrawn in a public hearing by Sommers a few weeks later when she admitted that "formatting errors" caused her to make the initial claims erroneously.

"So why the fervor to oust me and to replace me with an expensive bureaucrat at a substantial cost to taxpayers? I believe it is about our future," Hill said. "Since at least 2009, the state has been in a rush to federalize Wyoming's educational system. Some would have Wyoming adopt all directives of the United States Department of Education and completely abandon Wyoming leadership. Others see things differently: The future of Wyoming youth depends upon communities, parents, teachers and students to care, work, adjust, and learn. This effort cannot be forged in the furnace of a federally-conceived future," Hill said.

Part of the controversy involves a Fremont County system, District 38 at Arapahoe.

'No one will get rich'

"I am criticized for working directly with a Wyoming district (Arapahoe) to raise its overall reading achievement by 2.8 years during a 60-day period. Why, you ask? Because it did not involve purchasing expensive programs or paying high-priced consultants to rush to the district, then flee in advance of the next round of testing.

"No one will get rich by merely rolling up our sleeves and working one-to-one with struggling readers. And, these youngsters gained an extraordinarily valuable life-long skill."

Hill commented further on contracts in place at the WDE upon her election in 2010.

"Contracts are critical to the state agencies. At the WDE, I reviewed contracts. I cut them. I demanded performance. The result has already saved the state millions of dollars.

"What contractor wants to hear that we don't require outside contractors to direct us in educating our children? It looks like the monolith of corporate education is threatened when the kids grow," she said. "We have a well-trained corps of teachers. We can help them improve with commitment.

"Professionals care about results, and I continue to work to improve the teaching profession at every moment," she said. "The Legislature has not held the assessments steady. What is the target? How can we hit a target that constantly changes?"

Before the 2014 election

In a nod toward the 2014 elections, an e-mail from Rep. David Zwonitzer of Cheyenne urged action before Hill began her announced campaign for governor next year.

"Here is what concerns me, and why I believe another step is necessary," Zwonitzer said. "Ms. Hill has announced her candidacy to become the next Governor of the State of Wyoming. It should be noted that a majority of the voters in Wyoming elected her to her current position, and she will now be asking those voters, while on the campaign trail, for their vote once again.

"Since Ms. Hill is seeking higher office, this issue can't go away, and the Legislature cannot let it lie silent for three months and then come back and address it at a later time. The time to resolve it is now with a complete study, act upon the findings and put the issue to rest."

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Legislature, Wyoming