A bill introduced this morning would radically change the way the Wyoming Department of Education is run.
A 66-page bill co-sponsored by Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, and Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, would create an appointed department administrator to run the department of education. The move would essentially strip the Wyoming Department Superintendent of Public Instruction of day-to-day management of the agency charged with school testing and accountability statewide.
However, the bill redefines the superintendent's role. The superintendent position is one of five officers mandated by the Wyoming Constitution.
Teeters and Coe are chairmen of the state House and Senate education committees, and the bill is co-sponsored by all majority and minority legislative leaders.
“I was elected by the people, as you know, and I feel the responsibility to hear their voices,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill told the Casper Star-Tribune. “I’ve served as a voice of the people, and this bill would take away their voice. It replaces the voice of the people with an appointed bureaucrat.”
The measure shows the depth of distrust lawmakers have for Hill's administration of the Education Department, especially when it comes to education overhauls. Some lawmakers say her administration has hindered the effort and set it back years.
The bill, Senate File 104, would stabilize the department, the authors say. Teeters and Coe said the bill enjoys widespread support from leadership in the House and Senate, the Joint Appropriations Committee chairmen, and various members of the Legislature’s education committees.
“We acknowledge the strained relationship between the Legislature and the State Superintendent," Coe said in a prepared statement. "As we considered options to address critical education needs, we worked to separate personality from the issues. We have done that and recognize that, at its core, the current education governance model is flawed and we have grappled with this flawed structure for several decades. This bill fixes that problem."
Specifically noting problems in "turnover, personnel assignments and budget decisions," the bill aims "to provide the best education possible" for Wyoming students.
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"Over the past decade we have worked to develop expertise and talent in the Department," Teeters said in the statement. "Our goal is to ensure that the Department of Education staff is equipped to deal with the this complexity.
SF104 transfers all Education Department divisions, agencies, programs, positions, personnel, property, budgets and functions to the new director. The law would take effect when passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Matt Mead.
Mead would be required to "immediately" appoint an interim director to oversee transfer of the department's administrative duties and then appoint a director by Dec. 1.
The bill would duty the superintendent with:
- Presenting an annual report to the legislature on "the general status of all public schools."
- Administering a "teacher of the year" program.
- Monitoring school district policies for compliance related to "seclusion and restraint," and if necessary, assist districts in adjusting policies.
- Assisting school districts in preventing and treating "concussions and other head injuries resulting from athletic injuries."
The superintendent would serve as an ex-facto member on some education boards, and would still sit on the State Lands and Investments Board, the State Board of Deposits, and the State Building Commission.
The superintendent of public instruction is currently one of five statewide elected officials. The others are the governor, secretary of state, auditor and treasurer. The Wyoming Constitution entrusts the superintendent with "general supervision of the public schools" but specifies that the job's duties and powers must be prescribed by law, which the Legislature determines.
In his annual state of the state speech to the Legislature on Wednesday, Mead reserved some of his most pointed words for the state's education system, noting frustration with "disputes that are not necessary" and wasting time and money wrangling with problems that should and can be avoided.
The bill's introduction comes a year after the Legislature fell just several votes short of stripping Hill of her duties. On Wednesday, two Legislative Service auditors responded in detail to claims that Hill and the department met every deadline as mandate by law. In that report, the auditors chronicle missed deadlines and incomplete work submitted by the department.