CHEYENNE — There was tension Tuesday at the Wyoming Department of Education, where employees worried about their job futures as they went quietly about their duties.
The Wyoming Supreme Court decision announced earlier in the day that Senate File 104 was unconstitutional meant their former boss, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, would again be in charge of the department.
Asked if she was worried, longtime education department employee Rita Watson answered, "Kind of. Yes. I think a lot of other people are also concerned."
More than a dozen department employees earlier this month testified against Hill during a hearing before a special state House investigative committee. The panel is investigating claims of wrongdoing by Hill during her tenure as head of the Education Department.
The investigation has since been put on hold until after the upcoming legislative budget session ends in March.
Senate File 104, the legislation signed into law approximately a year ago by Gov. Matt Mead, stripped Hill of her administrative duties over the department but left her with state constitutional responsibility to the K-12 public schools. It also created a governor-appointed director of the Department of Education.
After Mead signed the bill into law, Hill and a few staff members moved from the department offices in the Hathaway Building to the Barrett Building a block away.
The Legislature acted, in part, because of complaints of mismanagement and harassment against Hill that were brought forward by a few department employees. Those employees and others later talked to investigators about Hill.
The court's decision, in effect, eliminates the job of the director of the Department of Education
Richard Crandall, who has held the position for the past six months, said Tuesday that he is worried about the department's staff, particularly the employees who testified at the House hearing.
"There is tremendous concern from a very large number of employees. They're not in a position like I am where they can go and start a new job next week. They need the health insurance. Some are single parents," he said.
Crandall said that while he couldn't give any assurances to the employees, he has asked a human resources staff member to prepare an employee memo that details the state law on the grievance process.
The governor's chief of staff, Kari Jo Gray, and his policy adviser on education, Mary Kay Hill, also talked with employees Tuesday morning, Crandall said.
Cindy Hill said during a noon media conference Tuesday that she was looking forward to working with the employees. Her legal counsel, John Masters, pointed out that only a few of the department's 140 employees complained about Hill's management.