Wyoming Liberty Group
Who Runs Wyoming Schools?
It would be reasonable to assume Wyoming’s public schools are run by teachers and administrators with additional guidance from local elected school boards. This assumption, however, is dead wrong.
Allow me to explain: The Wyoming Constitution, adopted in 1889, established the elected office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction: “There shall be chosen by the qualified electors of the state … [a] superintendent of public instruction.”
The powers of the superintendent also were granted to the legislature. “The general supervision of the public schools shall be entrusted to the state superintendent of public instruction, whose powers and duties shall be prescribed by law” (emphasis added). The last part of this section allows the legislature to define the powers of the superintendent through statute. In 1917, the State Department of Education and State Board of Education were created.
Exercising their power, the legislature created the position of director of the Department of Education, transferring most of the powers previously held by the superintendent to the director. The state superintendent, however, was given some responsibilities, including mandatory preparation of an annual report on the status of schools, administering the teacher of the year program, establishing policies for isolation and restraint, and deal with student concussions and head injuries. Both the superintendent and the director are nonvoting members of the board.
While the board, the director and the superintendent all have input on decisions impacting Wyoming schools, the state superintendent—the only elected official in this group—has almost no power. No longer is the state superintendent ultimately responsible as outlined by the constitution. Whoever serves as Department of Education director has far more direct influence than voters on education decisions in our state – as do the members of the board of education, who also are not elected but appointed by the governor. In fact, it is the State board that has some of the most important and influential statutory authority over education in Wyoming.
Meanwhile, the director and the remaining members of the board “serve at the pleasure of the governor and may be removed by him.” As a result, the board consists of 11 voting members, all appointed by the governor; the director, appointed by the governor; and the state superintendent, elected by the people. The governor may not have a vote, but 12 of the 13 members of the board and the director (who implements the board’s decisions) all serve at the governor’s pleasure.
By creating the position of director and mandating all voting members of the board be appointed by the governor, the legislature has virtually eliminated the ability of the people to have a direct impact on the running of Wyoming schools. The people would be better served were the board comprised of elected officials who represent the interest of their districts, mirroring the appointment districts. We could continue to have a teacher and administrator appointed at large, bringing the total number of voting members to nine with the director and state superintendent continuing to serve as nonvoting members.
The legislature should strive for a real, codified division of power between the state’s several educational organizational bodies and officials. Presently, as long as every voting member of the board and the director serve at the pleasure of the governor, power will be consolidated with the governor to the overall detriment of Wyoming’s public education. Requiring that all State Board of Education members be elected would diffuse the consolidation of power as well as return more decision-making authority to parents, local school boards, administrators and teachers.