CHEYENNE — Ruling that the education of Wyoming’s K-12 students hasn’t been jeopardized by a new law making changes to the state schools chief’s job, a district judge on Wednesday rejected Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill’s request to have her powers and duties immediately restored.
Judge Thomas Campbell refused to issue a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit Hill has filed challenging the constitutionality of a new law that made major changes to her job, including removing her as administrative head of the Wyoming Education Department.
“The goal of educating Wyoming’s children continues to be met under this new statute, albeit with different guidance,” Campbell said in his ruling.
Hill had argued that the state’s school system was being harmed by the law because it depended on many decisions made by the superintendent and the Education Department.
She and two Platte County residents also argued that they were personally harmed by the law because it changed the duties of statewide elected offices that they had voted on in 2010, when Hill was elected.
However, Campbell rejected any claim that their voting rights had been harmed as “speculative.”
Campbell also sent the lawsuit filed against the state and Gov. Matt Mead directly to the Wyoming Supreme Court for further court action. If the Supreme Court accepts the case directly from Campbell, it will schedule to hear arguments from both sides before making a decision.
Hill is glad the suit was expedited to the Supreme Court.
“We want this resolved as quickly as possible,” she said.
Hill declined to comment on the judge’s ruling on the preliminary injunction.
Earlier, Campbell also had denied Hill’s request for a temporary restraining order in the case.
The Governor’s Office released a statement saying Campbell’s decision brings the state closer to stability to the Education Department and to the state’s public school system.
“For years, it has been apparent the Department of Education was not working optimally and a change was needed,” the statement said. “The Legislature recognized the situation and found a constitutional away to improve it.”
The law, which was approved in the legislative session that ended earlier this month and in the middle of Hill’s four-year term, replaces the superintendent with a director appointed by the governor but keeps the superintendent as a statewide elected official.
Advocates of the law say it was necessary because Hill was delaying and hindering education reform efforts and doing a poor job of running the department. Hill has defended her administration of the department, which saw a turnover rate among employees of about 45 percent during her two years.
Hill maintains the law is a “coup” on her office, arguing it usurps the superintendent’s constitutional authority and violates various provisions of the Wyoming Constitution, including separation of powers because it transfers education duties to the governor’s office.
Also, her lawsuit contends that the loss of some of her powers, by extension, disenfranchises those who voted for her in the 2010 election to a four-year term.
The state counters that the constitution gives the Legislature, not the superintendent, control of public education. It says that Hill’s reading of the constitution is tortured and “provides pervasive inherent power to the superintendent.”
Since the law took effect at the end of January, a petition led by the Wyoming Constitution Party has been circulating around the state to repeal it, and Mead has empaneled an independent board to investigate concerns about how the agency was run.
Mead has appointed an interim director to run the Education Department while a search for a permanent director is conducted.