Ruling by WY Supreme Court threatens department jobs

The decision announced earlier in the day by the Wyoming Supreme Court was that Senate File 104 was unconstitutional, meaning their former boss, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, would again be in charge of the department. Rita Watson, a longtime education department employee, admitted that she was worried.

“Kind of. Yes. I think a lot of other people are also concerned,” she said.

During a hearing before a special state House investigative committee, more than a dozen department employees earlier this month testified against Hill. Claims of wrongdoing by Hill during her tenure as head of the Education Department were investigated by the panel. However, as reported by Joan Barron of the Star-Tribune, the investigation has since been put on hold until after the upcoming legislative budget session ends in March.

Hill was stripped of her administrative duties over the department by Senate File 104, the legislation signed into law approximately a year ago by Gov. Matt Mead. However, it left her with state constitutional responsibility to the K-12 public schools. In addition, a governor-appointed director of the Department of Education was created by it (Senate File 104).

Hill and a few staff members moved from the department offices in the Hathaway Building to the Barrett Building a block away after Mead signed the bill into law. Due to complaints of mismanagement and harassment against Hill that were brought forward by a few department employees, the Legislature acted in part. Later, investigators were spoken to about Hill by those employees and others.

In effect, the job of the director of the Department of Education is eliminated by court’s decision.

However, Richard Crandall, who has held the position for the past six months, is concerned about the department’s staff, particularly the employees who testified at the House hearing as he admitted on Tuesday. He said that because most employees feared for their jobs, there was “tremendous concern” from them as their jobs could soon come under threat.

“There is tremendous concern from a very large number of employees. They’re not in a position like I am where they can go and start a new job next week. They need the health insurance. Some are single parents,” he said.

Crandall has asked a human resources staff member to prepare an employee memo that details the state law on the grievance process, as he couldn’t give any assurances to the employees. In addition, Crandall said that on Tuesday morning, the governor’s chief of staff, Kari Jo Gray, and his policy adviser on education, Mary Kay Hill, also spoke with employees. However, during a noon media conference on Tuesday, Cindy surprisingly said that that she was looking forward to working with the employees. Only a few of the department’s 140 employees complained about Hill’s management, as pointed out by her legal counsel, John Masters.