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Baseball Bats and the Buddy System: Report Slams Ex-Wyoming Chief

A new report from a team of Wyoming state investigators states that the Department of Education was mismanaged and corrupt in a variety of ways, and may have also violated state law by using money improperly, under the former K-12 chief in the state, Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill. As you may remember, Hill still holds the state superintendent's position, but she was stripped of nearly all her education policy power through a controversial law signed by Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, earlier this year.

The lengthy report, which is summarized nicely by Jeremy Fugleberg at the Casper Star-Tribune, catalogs a variety of problems in the department under Hill, also a Republican, who was elected to the state's top K-12 job back in 2010. The highlights are that the report, which drew on information from "whistleblowers" at the department, says federal money intended for English-language learners and special education students was instead used for teacher-training programs not allowed under Wyoming law. Apparently, at one point, a department employee contacted Washington to alert them that the money was being misused.

Hill also apparently used a state-owned plane to fly to Jackson, along with several employees, and while there went to a country club luncheon, leaving staff to wonder why they were there in the first place, although they did visit a school while in the city, according to the findings. The report states that Hill made it a regular practice to pay for her use of the plane by taking money out of other parts of the education department's budget.

As for the work environment at the department during Hill's leadership, the report says that at the first all-staff meeting in January 2011 after her election, the superintendent reportedly told people in the room that "they weren't doing a good job, that no one likes them and that the State agrees with us (referring to her team)." For at least some staffers, it apparently only went downhill from there.

But on that alleged downhill slide, there were some pretty bizarre incidents highlighted by Fugleberg, including a story that women carried a baseball bat to the department's restrooms for protection against an unidentified threat, and that staffers were also called away from a meeting on some pretense in order to protect them against something once again not identified in the report. In a move more reminiscent of swims in the lake at summer camp than an education bureaucracy, employees also "designed an informal buddy system to walk in pairs to their vehicles." Hill also allegedly waved a knife during a cake-cutting at the office in response to supposed opposition to her, although she specifically denied this. At the other end of the spectrum, employees recounted a situation where they had to hold hands in a circle and thought they were trying to be "brainwashed" to strengthen their bonds with Hill.

More broadly, Hill defended her record when interviewed in the report, and said a few department employees were determined to "undermine" her and held secret off-site meetings.

Hill, who had sued to get the new law deposing her overturned, might be in more hot water as state lawmakers consider a response to the report, including the possible creation of a special committee to investigate the allegations. The U.S. Department of Education is also going over the report's findings.

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