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January 15, 2013 8:43 am

EDITORIAL: Education reform needed

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Debate ahead as lawmakers consider Senate File 104

Education in Wyoming is at a crossroads.

If legislative leaders succeed in coming weeks, the state superintendent of public instruction may no longer oversee the Wyoming Department of Education. A measure endorsed by top legislators would create a new director of the agency, to be appointed by the governor rather than through an election.

Those on the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the measure, Senate File 104, on Friday. Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, co-sponsored the bill.

Though it comes as a drastic move, it’s not surprising.

Legislators have openly voiced their distrust and criticism of Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill. Last summer, Hill and Coe openly sparred on the local KODI radio station.

The issues are complicated, the friction is evident and the ongoing conflict is increasingly frustrating.

While the two sides go back and forth about accountability and student performance, local school districts, teachers and students are caught in the crossfire.

Last week, Gov. Matt Mead said, “We are mired down with disputes that are not necessary.” We couldn’t agree more.

“Parents and teachers do not care about who is to blame — they care about results,” Mead said in his State of the State address last week. “If we want accountability, we have to be accountable. We want our papers’ headlines to speak of results, of innovation in education rather than name calling and blame or that our schools are getting an ‘F’ grade.”

Problems with Wyoming’s public education system and its governance existed long before Hill took office. Just look to former superintendent Trent Blankenship’s controversial term, marked by conflicts with then Gov. Dave Freudenthal and disputes over school construction and funding.

Coe told The Associated Press last week that issues with the public education system since 1985 have created a “somewhat unstable environment for the operation of the education in the state of Wyoming.”

Given the position’s thorny history, it’s clearly time for state lawmakers to consider how to improve leadership in education. Much is at stake.

We voiced our support for the superintendent’s office to be a nonpartisan position before Hill was elected in 2010. Some positions should be appointed rather than elected. Just look at our school districts. We don’t elect superintendents at a local level, but trust elected school boards to go through a rigorous process to hire the best person for the job. It makes sense for the top education official to be appointed as well, just as it is with the state’s transportation, wildlife and energy agencies.

Wyoming has invested so much in education, and rightfully so. For our investment, we expect to lead the nation in educational excellence, not to be stifled by ongoing disputes.

Regardless of what happens during this legislative session, leaders at every level must figure out a way to work together and improve our education system statewide. Our students deserve better.

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