By Sarah Pridgeon
Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill has requested that the Wyoming Supreme Court overturn the law that stripped her of most of her powers. Senate File 104 (SF104) violates the state Constitution, argues her attorney in a brief filed last week, which makes it the duty of the court to declare it invalid.
“Superintendent Hill asserts, in her official capacity, that by removing almost all of her powers and duties, and transferring them to an unelected gubernatorial appointee, the legislation unconstitutionally divested her of her authority to generally supervise Wyoming’s public schools,” said attorney Angela Dougherty in a brief to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
SF104 was signed into law in January and Hill filed her action the same day, declaring that the legislation is unconstitutional. She is joined in her action by two private citizens who voted for her in 2010 and claim that SF104 essentially nullifies their votes by changing the nature of Hill’s duties midway through her term, abridging their right to free speech.
Dougherty claims that the intent and language of the Constitution is clear on the matter: the general supervision of the state’s public schools should lie with the Superintendent of Public Instruction and no other office holder. SF104 transferred much of the position’s authority to a director appointed by the governor.
“The director has taken over most functions of education,” argues Dougherty, listing transferred duties that range from working with the State Board of Education, local school districts and administrators to enforcing education laws, accrediting schools and standardizing the curriculum.
The superintendent, meanwhile, has seen her role reduced to “only ministerial duties,” wrote Dougherty. Her duties now include preparing an annual report, perfunctory rulemaking, ceremonial tasks related to ‘teacher of the year,’ assisting with seclusion and restraint rules and policies relating to head injuries and concussions, developing guidelines on toxic chemical disposal and providing regional workshops for professional development.
Meanwhile, the Superintendent’s staff is reduced from over 150 to just seven positions and her budget is limited from $1.9 billion to $1.6 million annually – a reduction to one thousandth of its previous size.
Dougherty claims that the Constitution “does not grant to the Legislature the power or authority to manage the educational system.” Though she agrees that the Legislature is able to expand or contract the Superintendent’s powers, she argues that it cannot eliminate duties to a degree that would threaten her “general supervision” or “transfer those duties exclusively vested in the Superintendent to an unelected third party.”
Hill’s attorney maintains that the new law has drastically changed the result of the 2010 General Election by altering the offices of Superintendent and Governor both. The Superintendent, wrote Dougherty, was elected to generally supervise education but can no longer do so.
“Conversely, the Governor, through the appointment power that [the law] provides to him, now has a $1.8 billion dollar appropriation to manage and an entire education department; despite the fact the voters were never provided an opportunity to vet his qualifications or philosophies in having complete control over education.”
Hill’s action was brought before District Court in March, but the judge denied her request to delay implementation of the law until the matter was resolved and sent the case to Supreme Court for a final decision. The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of Governor Matt Mead, has until July 5 to file a response.