Following the superintendent’s scrap, a look at the powers of the position

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Following a process challenged by legal maneuverings and allegations of unconstitutionality, Gov. Mark Gordon on Thursday named Brian Schroeder as the state’s superintendent of public instruction. Schroeder will hold the position, recently vacated by Jillian Balow, until 2023, when voters will again have the opportunity to elect someone to the position.

All of the claims and rhetoric surrounding Balow’s replacement beg the question: what political clout does Wyoming’s superintendent of public instruction – one of five elected statewide offices, along with governor, auditor, treasurer and secretary of state – does he really own?

A review of the job description reveals a wide range of duties – from setting guidelines for the disposal of toxic chemicals to monitoring special education programs.

“The state superintendent truly has the ability to impact everything from the day-to-day operations of departments, to politics, to managing revenue for the future of school children,” Wyoming Superintendent Brian Farmer School Boards Association, mentioned.

But influence is the superintendent’s greatest power, according to Farmer: He or she can either help Wyoming’s various education agencies run smoothly or foster an environment of conflict.

shared power

Kari Eakins became acting superintendent when Balow stepped down Jan. 16 to take a similar position in Virginia, where the role is still appointed. Not every state elects its superintendent, Eakins said, but having the people choose the head of the education department keeps the superintendent accountable to voters, which Eakins sees as a strength.

Former Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow resigned Jan. 16 to take a similar position in Virginia. (Wyoming Department of Education)

Much of the Wyoming superintendent’s time is spent driving through the state’s visiting school districts. During her brief stint as acting superintendent, Eakins drove from her home in Cheyenne to Casper for a state board meeting and then two days later to Lander for a director’s conference.

“It’s a lot of miles. But you are responsible to people, so you have to go out and meet them,” Eakins said.

When explaining the job of superintendent, Eakins frequently uses the metaphor of an octopus on roller skates. “There’s a lot of different weapons, there’s a lot of action, but if you don’t have that unified vision, you can’t get to where you want to go,” she said.

The incumbent cannot do much without relying on others, she said, and when making many decisions, the superintendent must consult with the governor, state board of education or the legislature. For example, he or she can appoint members to the Wyoming Professional Education Standards Board, but this is a shared power with the governor.

The superintendent can “kind of guide policy and support districts,” Farmer said. “If a superintendent chooses not to engage in this role, if they’re just going to be all about compliance, it will lead to a negative culture within the department.” Districts might view the superintendent as a bureaucratic stumbling block rather than a partner, he said.

In addition to leading the Department of Education, the Superintendent of Public Instruction also sits on the State Board of Land Commissioners, State Board of Education, State Loan and Investment Board, and State Building Commission. The State Board of Land Commissioners manages state trust land, which is to be used to maximize revenue to support schools.

The superintendent is also a nonvoting member of the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees, the Wyoming Community College Commission, and the School Facilities Commission.

Story

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has a history of controversy in Wyoming. In 2013, the Legislature attempted to strip former Superintendent Cindy Hill of her powers after Hill was accused of embezzling federal education funds, creating a toxic work environment and sexual harassment.

The Legislature passed Senate Brief 104 in an effort to strip Hill of many duties and transfer them to an appointed director. The state Supreme Court ultimately ruled the decision unconstitutional.

Marti Halverson, one of the finalists for the job and a former representative from Wyoming, noted in her cover letter that she voted against Senate Docket 104 because she believed it to be unconstitutional.

“When an individual challenged, the legislature responded to that by limiting the power of the state superintendent,” Farmer said. “But when the person holding the office has shown partnership, then the legislature has been willing to allow him to exercise his authority.”

The finalists

On January 22, the Wyoming GOP selected three candidates for the position of state superintendent of public instruction. Candidates included:

  • Schroeder, principal of Veritas Academy, a private Christian school in Cody whose mission statement is “to help each student develop a biblical worldview by recognizing that God is the author of all knowledge and wisdom.” Schroeder majored in theology and speech and pastoral studies and holds a master’s degree in counseling. He moved to Wyoming in 2020, according to the resume submitted for the position. In his cover letter, he wrote that “the local American school is uniquely positioned to be both an extension and support for the American home as well as an incubator and bridge to American society.” In a column, he wrote that the United States was divided due to multiculturalism and “this is (sic) the latest, Critical Race Theory.” Schroeder did not respond to multiple interview requests.
Brian Schroeder (Screenshot/Veritas Academy)
  • Marti Halverson, a former Republican representative from Wyoming who noted in her candidacy that she was “not an ‘educator.’ Originally, Halverson “didn’t plan on running,” she told WyoFile. “But because I’m known in Republican circles around the state for my conservative approach to politics, a lot of people called me and encouraged me to run.” Statewide test results were one of her biggest concerns, she said, noting “there’s something wrong there.”
  • Thomas Kelly, chair of the department of political and military science at American Military University, a for-profit online university that reached a settlement with the state of Massuchesetts in 2018 for engaging in “enrollment tactics predatory”. Kelly said Republicans in the Sheridan area asked him to run, but because he was relatively new to the state, he was an unknown entity to the Central Committee. “In general, I would like to be remembered as the person who managed to keep Wyoming schools on a financially secure footing, without sticking to taxpayers,” he said.

Governor Mark Gordon interviewed the three candidates on Tuesday. The appointment process, however, was disrupted by a legal challenge. A lawsuit filed that day by 16 plaintiffs from various political backgrounds alleged that the process used by the GOP Central Committee to select the three nominees was unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs claimed that the process of allocating three votes to each county violated the federal and state constitutional “one person, one vote” rule. U.S. District Court Judge Skavdahl ordered the governor to suspend his final decision for the state superintendent until noon Thursday, but ultimately denied the motion.

In Thursday’s press release announcing Schroeder’s appointment, Gordon said, “Brian has demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that parents are closely involved in their children’s upbringing, as it should be.”

After his interview, Kelly said the governor asked how he would like to be remembered as superintendent, and he felt Gordon was interested in a candidate who was not using the position as a stepping stone to a position. superior, a feeling he accepted. with. Halverson wouldn’t discuss the details of his meeting, but said, “My talk with the governor was candid and friendly.”

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