It Wasn’t for the Children

It Wasn’t for the Children

Our View (WYOFACTS view)

For the past five years, Wyoming’s elected officials have consistently proclaimed that the United States of America would be better off if the federal government conducted business the “way we do in Wyoming.

The release of the inquiry into the Wyoming Department of Education under Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill’s tenure clearly demonstrates that while the people put in leadership positions by the voters of this state were challenging national politicians to emulate our brand of governance, they were somehow seduced into borrowing a few pages from the Washington, D.C., playbook instead.

The report released by a four-member team tasked by Gov. Matt Mead to dig into Hill’s activities, and complaints brought over the past two years by employees at WDE, was ordered after the Wyoming State Legislature passed Senate File 104 earlier this year, a bill that stripped Hill of most of her duties and shifted them to a director of the Wyoming Department of Education that will be appointed by Mead.

For several weeks, voters who were upset about the legislation — and believed it disenfranchised them because it all-but-eliminated an elected statewide position in favor of an appointed one — have been told that the report would demonstrate why the legislature and governor felt SF104 was necessary.

Instead, the highlights of the inquiry — as reported by media outlets that applauded the passage of SF104 — seem to indicate only that Hill was unpopular with some of the department’s employees, that she chose to exercise the authority she formerly had to move funds from programs she didn’t believe were working into ones that she thought would generate better results for Wyoming students, and that she used the state plane to fly herself and WDE employees to different locations around Wyoming.

So-called misuse of the ‘state plane’ has become something of a goto accusation for politicians and media outlets in Wyoming who want to soil the reputation of elected officials who challenge their agendas, and the list of people who have been distracted — unsuccessfully — by that accusation includes Wyoming’s former governor, Dave Freudenthal. As for the charges that Hill shuffled money from one account to another in order to improve teacher training and implement her own program to raise student achievement, the thought of Wyoming officials expressing alarm over such a move is laughable at best.

Many of these same officials have criticized the ‘bureaucrats’ in Washington, D.C., for not taking the steps necessary to produce better results and spend less of the taxpayers’ money. In fact, Wyoming’s congressional delegation challenged President Barack Obama and his department heads to make smart cuts when the federal sequester kicked in earlier this year in order to ensure that public services were maintained despite the budget cuts that impacted those departments. If we insist on challenging the members of the nation’s executive branch to perform in such a manner, we certainly shouldn’t criticize a member of the state’s executive branch for undertaking such a task.

Along those lines, the fact that Hill was disliked by many of the department’s employees might be the least surprising ‘revelation’ of them all. After all, she closed the WDE’s Laramie office — forcing those employees to either relocate, make the less-than-one-hour commute to Cheyenne, or find a job somewhere else. She also attempted to make any new staff members hired during her tenure at-will employees.

The best those disgruntled employees — who had been building a dossier on Hill for several months — could come up with were complaints that Hill made them hold hands as part of a trust building exercise, and gestured excitedly with a knife she was using to cut her birthday cake during a separate incident. Apparently some of these ‘threatened’ employees — whose names weren’t revealed in the coverage of the report, of course — brought things like bear spray and a baseball bat to work, yet their claims that Hill was the one who created a hostile work environment are being treated as gospel!

When Senate File 104 was first introduced, we were told by lawmakers that it had to be passed immediately so Wyoming’s students wouldn’t suffer, but instead of delivering concrete proof that Hill or her department had in any way decreased the quality of education in Wyoming, the smoking gun produced by this so-called ‘special inquiry’ contains nothing but a list of perceived sleights by disgruntled employees, accusations that Hill found ways to get around the legislature’s efforts to micromanage education in the state, and some shaky references to her use of a state plane on visits to constituents — a state plane that is supposed to be used by elected statewide officials to visit constituents!

At times, Hill’s enemies have gone so far as to suggest that her actions are somehow criminal, but at no point has any inquiry demonstrated that Hill stole state money, or used it any way for her own private, personal gain, and there doesn’t appear to be anything in this report to indicate that Hill ever threatened anybody with physical harm. It doesn’t seem like she did anything except disagree with the legislature about the manner in which education should be improved in Wyoming, and given the fact that we embrace the checks and balances built into our system through the existence of executive and legislative branches, that’s exactly what she was elected to do.

It’s time to end this madness once and for all. Hill has claimed that under her tenure, overall spending in the department has decreased in the past two years, and she showed test scores that seemed to indicate that student achievement has improved over the same time period. Those two factors would certainly lead us to believe that a greater level of efficiency (less spending/better results) has been achieved at the WDE since she was elected, and we challenge the legislature, the governor, and the media outlets that supported SF 104 to refute those claims by Hill, and focus on nothing else.

We’ve had enough audits, inquiries and investigations, spent far more of the state’s money on them than we should have, and produced nothing but a higher level of confusion by expanding the scope of the debate into areas that really mean little or nothing at the end of the day. In this instance, state government has failed to produce any kind of closure on this issue, and it is obvious it never will.

It’s time to entrust the people of Wyoming with finding a solution, and not another dime of taxpayer money should be spent on this mess until they do. They’ll get their chance when Mead, Hill and 75 of the 90 legislators come up for election in 2014.

Enough already


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