This session the Wyoming Legislature passed, and Governor Matt Mead signed, SF104. This bill divests elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill of authority over the Department of Education and awards it to a new Director of Education, to be appointed by Governor Mead. The bill takes power away from an elected official, adds another layer of bureaucracy to an already overburdened system, yet gives no guarantee of better educational outcomes.
To the dismay of many people in Wyoming who are concerned about consequences of the bill, its implementation is quickly going forward. On February 4th Governor Mead spoke to members of the Wyoming State Board of Education about the role of his transitional appointee, Dr. Jim Rose, the current Executive Director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, and about finding and hiring a permanent Director of Education.
Governor Mead said, “This is a tough situation for all of us.” He said he wants to see the new regime “stabilized.” His principal staff liaison to the Board of Education, Mary Kay Hill, will work closely with Board administrative coordinator Paige Fenton Hughes in conducting a national search to identify three finalists for the new position, from whom the Governor will make his pick. However, he declined to commit to a time line. In view of the turmoil preceding and accompanying passage of SF104, Governor Mead noted it is important to have “chosen the right person.” There was no provision for public input, but the names of finalists will be announced.
Board member Scotty Ratcliff warned Dr. Rose, “It is imperative we not be surprised at what you are doing.” Dr. Rose assured the Board that he would strictly comply with legislative statutes and keep Board members abreast of his actions, especially through email.
After this assurance, Dr. Rose announced, “Some things are going to change.” He plans to discontinue Superintendent Hill’s professional development program, explaining that his philosophy differs from hers. The Rose philosophy is to “facilitate learning.” He did not elaborate on exactly what this means, but he did share his goal to “Make this concept of seamless education a reality.” What facilitating learning and seamless education will bring to the classrooms where teachers are practicing the art of delivering instruction is unclear.
Dr. Rose emphasized he is not going to “deliver instruction,” a goal that many who voted for Mrs. Hill believed they were supporting. Board Chairman Ron Micheli told Dr. Rose, “Nobody envies your position,” adding that the Board wants to make the transitional work as comfortable as possible, “ . . . knowing that it is terribly unpopular.” Public sentiment against turning a publicly elected official into a figurehead remains strong. Superintendent Hill was not at the Board meeting because she was meeting with House Speaker Tom Lubnau.
Board members briefly discussed the prospect of a special House of Representatives session to vote on impeaching Superintendent Hill. Should such an impeachment succeed, it would consolidate power for the newly minted bureaucracy.
A meeting will be set for next week to discuss where the money would come from to finance the change. One might ask why adding another layer of administrative expense to a system that already has the highest ratio of non-teaching to teaching staff in the nation makes sense.
Some legislators may be feeling uncomfortable about their haste in passing SF104. On the House floor January 12th, prior to its passage, Representative Allen Jaggi may have had an inkling of a behind the scenes aftermath of regret on the part of legislators. He said he’d never seen a bill get fast-tracked as this bill has been. “I don’t think we’ve heard from the people . . . I just do not like what we are doing. I feel very bad.”