- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming voters will be choosing a new state schools chief Tuesday following years of tumult in the K-12 public education system under Superintendent Cindy Hill.

Republican Jillian Balow and Democrat Mike Ceballos each say they have the right background and leadership skills to stabilize the department and lead Wyoming’s educational system forward.

“We need to heal a pretty broken system and a broken Department of Education, and we need to move education forward,” Balow said.

“What we’re just lacking is that ability to step in and really lead and help people understand and get them involved,” Ceballos said.

It’s the most competitive of five statewide positions up for election this year. The others are governor, secretary of state, auditor and treasurer.

Hill’s tenure featured a bitter fight with the Republican-dominated Legislature and GOP Gov. Matt Mead over her administration of the Department of Education. The Legislature and Mead enacted a law in 2013 removing Hill from the agency, but the law was overturned by a divided state Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

Hill then challenged Mead for governor, but she finished a distant third in the primary.

Balow is a former teacher who now works as an administrator with the Department of Family Services.

“So I certainly have that experience and depth of understanding of both education, leadership and government,” she said. “That’s a skill set we haven’t had in a state superintendent, and that’s a skill set that’s needed in in a state superintendent.”

Ceballos is a former president of Qwest Wyoming who has been involved in developing education policy in recent years.

“I really think just the amount of experience that I’ve had both with educational policy the last 18 years, that I’ve been actively involved with governors asking me to get involved and represent business and education … that certainly is one of the critical pieces of work that a superintendent does,” he said.

Both pledge to work closely with local school districts and communities on such issues such as statewide student performance standards.

Ceballos said he has visited all 48 school districts in the state and will work closely with them to move students from “good to great.”

Balow said she knows the importance of working with districts and communities through her experience as a teacher in both small and big school districts and a previous administrative position with the Education Department.

“Philosophically I really believe that families and communities need to be making the most important decisions for our children,” she said.

Ceballos has supported the Common Core standards adopted by the State Board of Education, saying they are much better than the state’s previous standards. Balow has expressed concern about national standards being forced on Wyoming, but she says Common Core should not be repealed without any new state standards being adopted through a public process.

Outside the governor and superintendent races, Republican businessman Ed Murray faces two minor party candidates for secretary of state, while state Treasurer Mark Gordon and state Auditor Cynthia Cloud face no opposition in their re-election bids.

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