Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill won a lengthy legal battle against her enemies in state government Tuesday when the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that a 2013 law signed by Republican Gov. Matt Mead improperly stripped her of her power over public schools. But Hill, a Republican elected in 2010, is not out of the woods.
The justices ruled 3-2 that Senate File 104, which touched off a power struggle between Hill and GOP power brokers in the state last year, did not comport with the state constitution, which provides for the elected position of state superintendent to oversee education in the Cowboy State. The law transferred power from Hill’s superintendent’s position to a newly created position of director of education, a job now held by Rich Crandall, a former Republican state senator from Arizona. Before Mead signed the law, Hill had been feuding with other officials over her handling of the department.
But the majority opinion of the court stated that dissatisfaction over Hill’s job performance, including questions about her leadership style and handling of federal requirements, was not a sound legal basis for all-but eliminating her responsibilities: “This case is ... not about the current Superintendent of Public Instruction’s performance of her duties. The Wyoming Constitution is not intended to change based upon satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the performance of individual office holders; rather, it is rightfully intended to endure until amended by a vote of the people.”
The Casper Star-Tribune, which broke the news about the court ruling, subsequently reported that Hill would be returning to work, and that the superintendent called the law an unfortunate “mistake.” Just how she’ll deal with Crandall, who was selected for his post by Mead, is unclear, although Hill’s legal counsel said that without Senate File 104 to back him up, Crandall doesn’t really have any power.
However, it’s important to remember that Hill is still under investigation by a state legislative panel for alleged improprieties while she served as superintendent, including improper payments and nepotism. There’s a chance that regardless of the court’s ruling, Hill could be impeached.
Add this to the fact that Hill has announced that she’s running for governor, and the war over Hill’s position in the state may get more complicated, not clearer.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.