In January 2013, Governor Matt Mead signed legislation that stripped Hill of most of her official duties as Superintendent, on the grounds that she did not manage the department properly and created a "hostile workplace environment"; the changes for months rendered Hill as a mostly ceremonial political figure, until the Wyoming Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional.
After her demotion, Hill announced that she does not yield to politically expedient decisions and challenged Mead for re-nomination in the Republican gubernatorial primary held on August 19, 2014. She ultimately finished third in the primary with 12,443 votes (13 percent).
The youngest daughter of four girls, Hill (Siel) spent her early years in Newcastle, in Weston County in northeastern Wyoming. She subsequently moved with her family to Rawlins in Carbon County in southern Wyoming, and then Wheatland in Platte County in the southeastern portion of the state. There she completed grades seven through twelve and graduated from Wheatland High School.
Hill thereafter graduated from the University of Wyoming at Laramie and received a master's degree in educational policy and administration from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Michigan. She spent fifteen years working in juvenile treatment facilities before she was appointed one of the principals at Carey Junior High School in the capital city of Cheyenne. She was a principal for more than eight years and has more than twenty years experience in the educational system. Her educational emphasis has been on student performance results.
Hill resides in Cheyenne with her husband, Drake D. Hill, whom she met at the University of Wyoming. He is an attorney with the Beatty & Wozniak firm and a former state chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party. The couple has one son, Andrew "Drew" Hill, a 2010 graduate of the University of Wyoming who was born in Laramie while Drake was enrolled there in law school.
In the 2010 Republican primary election, Hill unseated Jim McBride, the incumbent superintendent. Hill won all twenty-three counties in the state. She received 47,111 votes to McBride's 24,270. Former superintendent Trent Blakenship received 13,989 votes, and Ted Adams, the former superintendent of Laramie County School District No. 1, finished last with 10,221 votes.
In the general election, Hill then defeated the Democrat State Senator Mike Massie, 113,026 votes (59.2 percent) to 71,772 (37.6 percent). In the campaign, Hill stressed reducing the state dropout rate, placed then at 26 percent, and cutting bureaucracy in the state education department.
As superintendent, Hill had responsibility over the K-12 public school system prior to the reorganization which took place in 2013. Early in her administration, Hill closed the district office in Laramie, a move which affected twenty-nine employees, who would she indicated be given the option of working in the Cheyenne office. The Laramie office had handled assessment. Hill moved the focus of the state office in Cheyenne from data collection and compliance to federal guidelines instead to a concentration on the improvement of public instruction. She worked to establish partnerships with the school districts with the goal of mutual cooperation and collaboration. She sought to bring in teachers from a high-performing district to advise educators in areas where pupil reading scores need improvement. Critics contend that Hill's new focus had led to confusion and workplace disenchantment.
Among the allegations levied against the superintendent include threats to department employees and misuse of state funds. At her first meeting with employees in late 2010, she reportedly asked them to “honor the new superintendent’s leadership," which some department employees considered a request for a loyalty oath. Hill is accused of having used special education monies to finance general teacher training sessions. She allegedly waved around a cake knife at her birthday party and told the attendees that she would not be bullied by the Wyoming State Legislature. Hill maintains that dissenting employees "broadly misunderstood" her departmental objectives: "The inference that jobs were in jeopardy, or that the legislative mandates were to be subverted, or that the unwavering loyalty was the goal of such meetings is simply fantasy by a small group of people who seem to revel in intrigue," Hill said in response to allegations against her leadership.
The Casper Star-Tribune reported that at least six department employees complained of stress-related health issues that resulted from Hill’s office management style. A female employee said that she was so offended by Hill that she thought Hill was causing her to have a heart attack. Hill is further accused of having given a male employee an unwanted back massage during a meeting and of clutching another man's shoulders and asking him if he were loyal to her.
Early in 2013, the Legislative Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability approved draft bills to transfer the responsibilities, funding, and personnel from the superintendent's office to the Wyoming State Board of Education, which assumed the requirement to finish the work on the design of the first phase of the educational accountability system. Under the plan, Hill also lost her right to vote on deliberations of the state board of education.
The legislature soon passed the final bill, which was signed into law by Governor Mead. Hill argued that a "coup" had been undertaken on her constitutionally-created state office. In a suit filed to contest the law, Hill said that the legislature and the governor had disenfranchised voters by transferring many of the superintendent's duties to a gubernatorial-appointed director. Hill said the change would be valid only through an amendment to the Wyoming State Constitution. Angela Dougherty, Hill's attorney, declared in court filings: "By passing a law that strips the superintendent of the general supervision of public schools, the Wyoming Legislature and the governor have threatened the very nature of constitutional government." Dougherty sought a restraining order and injunction to halt the change in the superintendent's duties. Hill's suit is still pending before the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Governor Mead quickly challenged the validity of Hill's suit; he claims that the Wyoming Constitution gives lawmakers the authority to transfer duties from the elected education superintendent to an appointed director. Mead's legal team said that much of the transferred powers in dispute had been assigned to the superintendent in the past two decades by statute, not from the constitution itself.
Meanwhile, Mead hired Rich Crandall, a moderate Republican member of the Arizona State Senate, to serve as the new education director. A businessman from Mesa, Arizona, Crandall formerly worked with the Digital Learning Commission, a national panel formulated by Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida. Crandall's new position involves an annual budget of $1 billion.
In July 2013, Hill was summoned to a meeting of key legislators to discuss an investigation into a further charge against her: that she may have misused federal funds while the administrator of her office. The investigation is requested by House Speaker Tom Lubnau, a Republican from Gillette in Campbell County in northeastern Wyoming. Hill contends that the House Rules Committee is biased against her because all of its members voted for the legislation to strip away her duties. Lubnau has pledged that the hearings into Hill's conduct of the office will be conducted fairly.
In August 2013, the special House committee investigating Hill said that it will need $110,000 to finance the probe. The panel asked Governor Mead if he can determine a way to provide Hill, his pending gubernatorial rival, with legal counsel. Depending on what is uncovered, the committee could recommend that the full House launch impeachment proceedings against Hill. Were impeachment approved, Hill would, upon conviction in the Wyoming Senate, be required to vacate her position. No deadline has been set for the committee to complete its work.
Meanwhile, the investigating committee determined that it had no authority to provide Hill with counsel at state expense. This means Hill will either represent herself before the hearings or retain a lawyer at her private expense.
On January 28, 2014, the Wyoming Supreme Court in a three-to-two vote declared the law removing the duties of the superintendent and placing them into the hands of an appointed director conflicts with the Wyoming State Constitution. The ruling at first seemed to mean that Hill would resume her regular duties within two weeks. Written by Justice E. James Burke and supported by Michael K. Davis and Barton Voigt, the Supreme Court opinion said that while the legislature can legally adjust the powers of the superintendent, it cannot undermine the constitutional authority of the office itself over the general supervision of public schools. Governor Mead, meanwhile, through his appointed Attorney General Peter K. Michael, will appeal for a rehearing. The court could stay the return of Hill to her regular duties, pending the granting of any rehearing. The Supreme Court did not specifically address the status of Crandall's director position whenever Hill resumes her duties.
On March 6, 2014, Hill announced that she would attempt to resume her official duties on March 10, based on the Wyoming Supreme Court ruling thirty-seven days earlier. However, Governor Mead warned her not to disrupt the department and instead to wait on further rulings from a Laramie County state district court judge, Thomas Campbell. Hill maintains that Mead, who officially announced his reelection plans on March 11, is stalling the judicial waters to prevent her from returning to the superintendent's post: "The time for waiting and deference are long since passed. I must resume my duties as required by the (Wyoming) Constitution." As Mead had warned, Hill was at the time forbidden to return to her constitutional duties. Attorney General Peter Michael instructed Hill that she must await word from the district court before she can resume her duties. According to Michael, the district court will make a legally binding decision in the case, which the state Supreme Court failed to do when it declared the law stripping Hill of her duties to be unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Mead appointee Rich Crandall remains in charge of the state education department.
Hill's case was returned to the district court after the Supreme Court declined to rehear the matter or to offer additional clarifying information on the resolution of the issue. On March 18, Judge Campbell set a three-week time frame for the next part of the case.
Judge Campbell certified the Supreme Court decision to reinstate Hill but determined that five parts of the measure meet constitutional muster. Attorney General Peter Michael had maintained that those sections of the law should be considered constitutional because they do not involve the transfer of duties from Hill to Crandall. Those provisions include a requirement that the superintendent prepare by October 15 an annual report on the status of all public schools and that the superintendent identify and address professional development needs for the schools. Another part of the law repeals the authorization for the education department to retain an attorney independent of the attorney general.
On April 21, 2014, Hill finally resumed her regular duties as superintendent. Crandall remained behind a few additional days to assist in the transition. Meanwhile, a legislative committee continues to investigate Hill's former tenure as superintendent prior to her removal.
With Hill not seeking a second term as Superintendent but instead having unsuccessfully challenged Mead in the gubernatorial election, Jillian Balow, a former human services policy advisor to Governor Mead and an administrator at the Wyoming Department of Family Services, became the first Republican to announce her candidacy for superintendent. Balow did not take a stand on whether Wyoming should support the Common Core State Standards Initiative for science instruction but subsequently came out against Common Core entirely. Balow's opponent was the Democrat, Michael A. Ceballos (born 1955), a Cheyenne businessman who supported Common Core. The position pays $92,000 annually. Balow defeated Ceballos in the November 4 general election with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Hill said that despite her defeat by Mead in the Republican primary, "I trust the people, so they've elected this person again. And so we'll cope with that." Hill said that her campaign was based on the premise that one should always stand on principle and never give up, no matter the odds against him.