POLITICS

Cindy Hill, Wyoming Elected Schools Chief, Demoted By Legislature

01/29/2013 06:52 pm ET

The elected chief of Wyoming's education system, Cindy Hill, is vowing to fight after being stripped of her power and relegated to largely ceremonial and minor advisory duties on Tuesday afternoon.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) signed legislation Tuesday that removed Hill, the state superintendent of public instruction, from her role as the chief executive of the state Department of Education and replaced her with an appointed state education director. The legislation had been passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature last week, following accusations that Hill, a Republican elected in 2010, has mismanaged Wyoming's education system.

"This bill addressed a structural problem in a system that existed for many years," Mead said in a statement. "As education has become more complicated, we have been mired down. This change allows us to focus on educational excellence for our children."

Hill was present in Mead's conference room in Cheyenne when he signed the bill during a press conference at 3 p.m. MST. According to tweets from others present, she followed Mead into his private office after the press conference and served him with a lawsuit in an effort to block her removal.

Mead's spokesman, Renny MacKay, told The Huffington Post that the governor had been warned in advance to expect Hill's lawsuit. He said that Mead, a former U.S. attorney for Wyoming, had consulted with state Attorney General Greg Phillips, and both agreed the bill was constitutional.

A spokesman for Hill did not return calls from HuffPost for comment.

The action against Hill culminates a months-long war between Hill and legislators, who have passed a series of educational accountability bills since she took office in 2011. The removal bill was sponsored by leaders from both parties. Among Hill's questionable actions cited by lawmakers was her refusal to implement a national testing program for Wyoming students.

Last year, legislators named two liaisons to monitor Hill's agency. They issued a scathing report on her conduct in November, saying that the Education Department was not performing its duties and had missed deadlines for federal funds.

Hill fired back that the liaisons had been named in an attempt to wrest control of the Education Department from her and called the move a "power grab."

Wyoming House Minority Leader Mary Throne (D-Laramie) told HuffPost she is pleased that Mead signed the legislation and she hopes that Hill's removal will focus attention on educational achievement in the state.

"It is the legislature's job to prescribe duties and create a structure of government that works," Throne said. "Education is too important and a huge portion of our spending."

Jim Rose, the head of the state's community college agency, will serve as interim education director.

Hill, who won the 2010 GOP primary based on Tea Party support, faces reelection in 2014. The superintendent's post is established in the Wyoming constitution, which says legislators shall define the job's duties. The state constitution only gives the superintendent the power of "general supervision" of education, along with a seat on the University of Wyoming board, and prohibits her from picking out textbooks.

Under the new legislation, Hill and her successors will continue to serve on several boards, including the state Board of Education. The superintendent will be required to write an annual report on public education in Wyoming, supervise the teacher-of-the-year awards, establish state policies on seclusion and restraint of students, develop model protocols for the prevention of concussions and head injuries in school athletic programs, and write guidelines for the storage of toxic chemicals at schools in partnership with state environmental officials. The concussion duties are largely advisory, as local school districts can adopt their own plans. The superintendent may also adopt regulations for "general supervision" of schools as long as they don't conflict with the Education Department's rules.

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