- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill returned to the Department of Education on Monday. Her return ends nearly 15 months of exile brought about by changes in state law that were only recently rejected by the courts.

“It’s been a good day for me, and I think it’s a good day for the constitution and the people of Wyoming,” Hill said.

Hill’s return follows recent court orders holding that a state law that stripped her of her authority over the department last year was unconstitutional.

“I’m glad that we stopped wasting the taxpayers’ money on these things, and we’re back to work,” Hill said Monday. “I personally am glad that I’m not having to spend any more of my personal resources on this.”

Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell on Friday signed an order ruling that a state law that passed last year removing Hill from the Department of Education was unconstitutional. The judge declined to find that other minor provisions of the law, such as requiring Hill to file an annual report on the status of schools, was unconstitutional and should be blocked.

Campbell’s order followed earlier rulings by the State Supreme Court that the state law was unconstitutional. The high court said that the Wyoming Legislature went too far in stripping educational responsibilities from Hill’s office.

The Wyoming Legislature moved to strip Hill of her powers over the Education Department last year. Many lawmakers had said they didn’t believe Hill was following legislative directives to improve accountability in the school system.

Wyoming is among the top states in per-student spending but lawmakers have said they’re concerned its investment hasn’t resulted in adequate improvements in student test scores.

Renny MacKay is spokesman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. He said Monday that Hill’s staff met with members of the governor’s staff and other officials on Monday.

Last year’s law had turned over day-to-day operations at the Education Department to an administrator appointed by the governor.

MacKay said Rich Crandall, who had been appointed to run the department, will continue working for Mead’s office temporarily to ease Hill’s return.

Mead and Hill are both seeking the Republican Party nomination for governor this year. Hill has accused Mead of delaying her return to run the Education Department.

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office has represented the state in defending against Hill’s lawsuit challenging the state law. The attorney general is appointed by the governor and the Attorney General’s Office routinely defends state statutes against legal challenges.

Mead issued a statement last week saying Hill had rejected earlier opportunities to return to the Education Department. “I am pleased the court has issued an order that brings finality to this matter,” the governor said.

Hill said she won’t return to her old office in the Hathaway Building until a couple of other workers who have been using it relocate.

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