A law that stripped most of the power from Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill left the state’s public education system in “complete chaos,” she argues in her latest court filing.
Hill’s removal as head of the Wyoming Department of Education bred confusion and distrust across Wyoming, she wrote in an affidavit describing events since her ouster last month. The embattled superintendent wants a judge to restore her powers until a court can fully consider the law.
Through her attorney, Hill insisted a judge should act quickly to prevent further harm to students.
“Most importantly, Superintendent Hill’s ability to do the job she was elected to do generally supervise Wyoming’s public schools is irreparably damaged and harms Wyoming’s children, who the Legislature and the Governor have willingly sacrificed as part of the obvious politics, gamesmanship and quest for power embodied in (the law),” Hill attorney Angela Dougherty wrote.
Last month, Hill sued Gov. Matt Mead, claiming the law he signed that largely stripped her office of powers violated the state Constitution. Hill has since announced her attention to run for governor in 2014.
The Wyoming attorney general is defending Mead against the suit. The state’s attorneys maintain the Legislature acted within the scope of its constitutional powers when it transferred many of the superintendent’s duties to a director appointed by the governor.
Jim Rose, the interim education director appointed by Mead, said Hill’s characterization of chaos and confusion didn’t fit with the feedback he’s received from educators.
“The ones who are talking to me have been supportive and complimentary of our efforts,” he said.
Rose said he’s tried to make himself available to local school officials. He’s communicated with district superintendents and has been trying to follow legislative directives.
“We are doing our level best to make this transition as open and as inclusive as possible, and involve all of the stakeholders we can possibly engage,” he said. “It is going to take some time.”
Lawmakers passed the so-called “Hill Bill” after repeatedly sparring with her during her two years in office. They said workers complained about an “atmosphere of secrecy and intimidation” under Hill’s leadership.
Hill has depicted her legislative critics as “good old boys” who were upset by her reform efforts within the education department. In her latest filing, she suggested her efforts to end wasteful contracts led to resentment from interests within the state agency.
Her attorney did not respond to a message left Monday.
After the bill became law, Hill and a handful of her employees moved out of the education department and into their own office. She must now communicate with department employees through an appointed liaison.
The arrangement has created confusion among school district and the public, she indicated in her affidavit.
“Previously, the superintendent was always the point of contact for the public’s questions, concerns and issues,” Hill wrote in her affidavit. “That communication no longer exists.”
The liaison is a requirement under the law that created the appointed education director, noted Mead spokesman Renny MacKay.
“The legislation recognizes that having a point person would help ensure the superintendent and the board (of education) get all information necessary to carry out their respective duties,” he said in an email.
Hill also contends there has been a systematic effort to isolate and replace employees that she recruited. She claims her public information officer “was terminated” day after testifying, on his own time, against the bill.
MacKay said the position was not eliminated, but rather transitioned over to the superintendent’s office.
A Laramie County district judge has scheduled a hearing for next week to consider Hill’s request for a preliminary injunction.