CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Senate has approved legislation removing the state superintendent of public instruction as administrative head of the state Department of Education in favor of a director appointed by the governor.
The superintendent would remain on various state boards and commissions and retain some education related duties but would no longer oversee the day-to-day operations of the agency. The change would occur this year, the third year of current elected Superintendent Cindy Hill’s four-year term.
The Senate passed Senate File 104 on a 20-10 vote Wednesday and sent it to the House for consideration.
Hill opposes the bill, contending it would leave her position mostly ceremonial.
“It’s the most significant power grab, perhaps, in Wyoming’s history and the people’s vote and voice is about ready to change in education,” Hill said after the vote.
Hill held out hope that the bill would be defeated in the House, saying representatives may not be as influenced by the legislative leaders from both political parties who are among the bill’s sponsors.
“Many of the new House members are — some people would describe them as they’re not sheep” in how they vote on legislation, she said.
Supporters of the proposal say it would entrust delivery of Wyoming’s K-12 public education into the hands of a professional administrator and put the state’s education reform efforts back on track.
The measure resulted from frustration among some lawmakers with how Hill has run the agency since she was elected to the post about two years ago, particularly when it comes to implementing the state’s ambitious education reforms.
Hill’s critics contend her agency has forced delays in the reform effort by failing to carry out specific duties mandated by the Legislature. Other legislation being considered by lawmakers this session push back the time frame for implementing reforms.
Hill has defended her administration of the department, which has a two-year budget of about $1.9 billion, saying the agency has completed its tasks.
During debate on the bill Wednesday, senators rejected a proposal to delay the bill’s effective date to 2015, after Hill’s current term expires.
Sen. Leslie Nutting, R-Cheyenne, said delaying the change to an appointed director would provide more time to make the switch without negating “the vote of the people after the fact.”
Nutting and others said there’s no need to rush to make such as major change in how Wyoming’s education agency is administered.
“We don’t have time,” responded Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody and a leading advocate for education accountability in Wyoming.
Coe and other senators said leaving the department under Hill’s direction for another two years would mean wasting another two years in trying to better prepare Wyoming students for college and careers.
Senators also rejected another amendment that would have set the new department director’s term at two years and required the State Board of Education to annually review the director’s performance.