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February 06, 2014 8:15 am

EDITORIAL: Wild pitches caused most of the drama in Education Department

Written by Tom Lawrence

The Super Bowl is over, and baseball season is headed our way. That makes it fitting that the state of Wyoming is dealing with one helluva curveball on the future of the state Department of Education.

The Wyoming Supreme Court tossed this spinner on Jan. 28 when it ruled, in a 3-2 decision, that SF104 was unconstitutional. That law, passed during the 2013 legislative session, stripped much of the real authority to run the Department of Education from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.

Justice E. James Burke wrote the primary opinion, and Justice Michael Davis submitted a concurring opinion that was joined by Justice Barton Voigt. These umpires in black robes have Wyoming’s leaders and citizens all pondering the next pitch. Chief Justice Marilyn Kite and Justice Michael Golden differed.

The decision hit Gov. Matt Mead, state lawmakers and citizens like a fastball in the ribs. While people knew the state Supreme Court was weighing the case, few realized such a momentous decision was about to be announced.

Particularly hard hit were Department of Education staffers, especially since a few staffers testified about Hill’s alleged abuses of power and personal quirks during a legislative inquiry into her tenure two weeks earlier. Some were in tears, according to Richard Crandall, the director of the Department of Education.

Before he came here, Crandall served on his local school board, which was the largest district in Arizona, and chaired the education committees in the Arizona state House and Senate. His speciality is management and politics, which seems to indicate he is the right person for this task.

Hill, by contrast, is a professional educator whose husband Drake is a former Wyoming Republican Party chairman. She has close ties to the far-right Tea Party movement, which has been among her most ardent supporters.

Several questions remain during this seventh-inning stretch.

Crandall, who called the position his “dream job,” would be out of a job if Hill takes the helm again, according to the governor’s office. Will he head back to Arizona, sadder but wiser?

How about the approximately 150 employees in the department? Will some face reprisals, or even be fired, for speaking out against Hill? Will they have to adjust from Crandall’s moderate, reform-oriented positions, including support for the Common Core Standards, to Hill’s stances, which differ greatly?

How about the Legislature’s investigation of Hill, which was put on the back burner recently? Will that suddenly be shifted back into gear? Is the answer to remove her from office, rather than alter how the job itself is structured? And did Hill commit offenses that justify impeachment?

If Hill was abusing her authority, she should have been removed from office. SF104 was the wrong pitch at the wrong time, we feel.

The Supreme Court made that call, and while Mead has asked for the attorney general to review the decision and may ask the court for another hearing, it seems like the law passed a year ago was an error. Many legislators, including some from our area, say that they are still glad that cast a vote in favor of it and feel it was the right call then and now.

Still, we have to wonder why the Legislature and Mead felt compelled to act without considering all these potential consequences. They have landed in a pickle, and there’s no easy way out of it.

The voters elected Hill to office. While several staffers opposed her policies, and some felt she was violating state law and misusing federal funds, Cindy Hill felt she was doing the job she was selected for in 2010.

Still, almost as soon as she took office, things started to go south, leading to the current situation. She bears a great deal of responsibility for that.

Now, as everyone waits for the next inning to start, we will advise caution and a more careful approach. Hill is not seeking a second term as superintendent. In less than a year, she will be gone from the department, and for the next seven months, she will expend a great deal of her time running for higher office.

Hill is challenging Mead in the Republican primary for governor, and by all accounts she is way behind on the scoreboard. If she somehow does win, and with little Democratic opposition on the horizon, it means the people of Wyoming have spoken and she will set a course for state government based on that.

However, if she loses in August, her time in public office will quickly conclude. We offer her the same advice: Don’t create chaos and make waves; seek consensus and work with your staff and others to accomplish something worthwhile for our schools and students.

We also feel, and have stated previously, that the superintendent’s job should be switched from an elected office to an appointed one, while realizing this would require a constitutional amendment. We favor having a qualified panel recommend a few names of experienced educators with management experience to the governor, and a superintendent selected from that pool.

That would be a home run for Wyoming, instead of this spitball of a mess we are currently facing.

6 comments

  • Comment Link February 06, 2014 3:59 pm posted by c

    Obama and Hill........ what a pair

  • Comment Link February 06, 2014 7:49 pm posted by Rose W

    The governor should have vetoed SF-104, knowing the people needed ALL the information, because she had been duly elected. If she is guilty of all she is accused of, then bring on the impeachment and let the 'proof' see the full light of day.

    Instead, the legislature and the governor used innuendo, not facts, to oust an elected official, and replace her with an appointee. Talk about politics.....

    This whole thing stinks, and I'm thankful the "mess" that the Wyoming Supreme Court has thrown us into.

    If "c" wants to compare someone to Obama, it is the state legislature and the governor. Shame on them for taking the people out of the equation!

  • Comment Link February 07, 2014 10:07 am posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    Wild pitches? American Government,all aspects of it including both parties,are so far out in left field anymore,all is FUBAR.

  • Comment Link February 08, 2014 10:34 am posted by Mason

    Crandall will be taking sailing his golden parachute all the back to Arizona. Not to mention other bennies his contract gave him. When is the legislature and the governor going to stop wasting money on this? The court has ruled. It's unconstitutional! So, Governor Mead and Hank Coe stop violating our constitutional rights.

  • Comment Link February 09, 2014 8:50 am posted by c

    how about the voters who do not become informed before they vote? it is not shame on them but the voters. you allowed this stinking mess to happen. I know I did my best--what can you say?

  • Comment Link February 11, 2014 3:59 pm posted by Rose W

    C, you cannot take away a voter's rights because you think they're not informed. Shame on you for inferring it. Go looking for real facts in this Cindy Hill persecution, and you will only find smoke. Like I said before, if she has indeed done wrong, then let's go for impeachment. That way, I will get all the facts AND proof.

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