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In court challenge, superintendent argues for autonomy

Jul 24, 2013 - By Bob Moen, Associated Press

State schools Superintendent Cindy Hill's legal challenge to a new state law contends the framers of the Wyoming Constitution didn't intend for the governor and Legislature to have exclusive control over public education.

"The framers chose to 'entrust' the superintendent with 'general supervision' of the public schools," according to the legal brief Hill's attorney, Angela Dougherty, filed late Monday with the state Supreme Court. "No other elected official was given this specific power and the absence of this grant elsewhere indicates that the framers were of the opinion that control over education should not reside exclusively with the Legislature or the governor."

Hill is challenging the constitutionality of a new state law that stripped her office of many of its powers by removing her as administrator of the state Education Department. Instead, the agency will be run by a director appointed by the governor.

Hill contends the state constitution gives the superintendent unique authority to oversee public education. The state argues that the constitution directs the state Legislature to determine the superintendent's powers.

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the case on Aug. 20.

Interim Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael was unavailable for comment Monday, according to his office.

Hill, a Republican, filed her legal challenge immediately after GOP Gov. Matt Mead signed the bill into law last January.

The law took effect in the middle of Hill's four-year term. She was elected in 2010.

Lawmakers have said they were forced to remove Hill because she had redirected state money to programs not authorized by the Legislature and had hindered legislative education reform efforts, among other reasons.

In addition, since the legislative session, an inquiry into the Education Department's operations reported that Hill may have misused federal funds while she ran the agency. A special House committee has been created to investigate further -- an unprecedented move in Wyoming history that could be a step toward possible impeachment proceedings against Hill, depending on the committee' findings and recommendation.

Hill has denied any wrongdoing and has defended her administration of the agency.

In Monday's legal brief, Dougherty argued that the changes in the superintendent's office must be done by amending the state constitution.

But when the Legislature rejected such a constitutional amendment proposal in 2012, lawmakers bypassed the process and "substituted its will over the people."

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