Gov. Mark Gordon on Thursday named the principal of a private Christian school in Cody to serve as Wyoming’s next superintendent of public instruction.
Brian Schroeder, who oversees Veritas Academy, will serve the remainder of the superintendent’s term, which ends in January 2023. He replaces Jillian Balow, who stepped down earlier this month to take the same position in Virginia.
Schroeder’s nomination capped a dramatic day that saw a federal judge clear the way for Gordon to act after critics of the selection process filed a lawsuit. Gordon had three candidates to choose from.
“I have reviewed the application materials and conducted interviews with all candidates who have gone through the selection process, and after much prayer and careful consideration, have determined that Brian Schroeder is best suited for the position. of superintendent,” Gordon said in a press release. “Brian has demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that parents are intimately involved in their children’s education, as it should be. I will work to ensure a smooth transition into leadership of the Wyoming Department of Education.
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Gordon was tasked with picking one of three candidates nominated by the Republican State Central Committee — made up of three Republicans from each county — which voted on its top three picks on Saturday. Gordon was legally bound to make a decision on one of the nominees by Thursday.
Schroeder defeated Marti Halverson, a former far-right state representative and Lincoln County GOP chairwoman, and Thomas Kelly, chair of the US Military University’s Department of Political and Military Science.
Schroeder has worked as a teacher and administrator at private schools in California, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming and as a family and youth counselor, according to the governor’s press release.
“I am honored and honored beyond words at this incredible opportunity to serve Wyoming students, teachers and parents,” Schroeder said in the press release. “I will do my best to help strengthen education for the future of our state.”
The new superintendent received his bachelor’s degree from Maranatha Baptist University and a master’s degree in professional counseling from Liberty University.
Balow’s replacement didn’t go without a few hiccups.
Former Wyoming House Speaker Tom Lubnau and 15 others filed a lawsuit this week against Gordon, the Republican Party of Wyoming, the party chairman and the Republican Wyoming State Central Committee in subject of the selection process.
The plaintiffs included Dave Northrup, a former state legislator and unsuccessful candidate for superintendent, Doug Camblin, the Campbell County GOP committee member, Rex Arney, a former state legislator, as well as a dozen voters from all political backgrounds. They were represented by former Attorney General Pat Crank.
The plaintiffs alleged that the selection process for the temporary superintendent is unconstitutional because each county gets an even number of votes in the matter, not a number of votes proportional to the population of the county. This, they claim, violates the “one man, one vote” principle in the constitutions of Wyoming and the United States.
On Wednesday, a U.S. district judge barred Gordon from choosing a nominee until noon Thursday to have time to review the documents.
Counsel for the defendants countered by arguing, among other things, that even under the plaintiffs’ selection approach, the outcome of the selection process was unlikely to change, given that all three candidates won by overwhelming margins in the central committee vote.
U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl ultimately ruled against the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary halt to Gordon’s ability to choose a candidate.
In the ruling, Skavdahl wrote that the plaintiffs could not “demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits because the case law does not support their position. Further, the plaintiffs have failed to establish irreparable harm.”
Skavdahl added in the finding that “the plaintiffs argue that they have a likelihood of success on the merits but are unaware of the Supreme Court precedent relevant to their case.”
Following the ruling, Crank said he thinks “the future is bright” because a federal judge recognized the problems that arise when all counties get the same number of votes in such matters.
But there is also a road outside the courts.
“If this is to be resolved, citizens must petition their legislature and the legislature must take action to resolve this election integrity issue,” Crank said.
The lawsuit could go ahead, even while Schroeder is in office. Skavdahl ruled on a motion asking for a temporary halt to the process.
The process in question has already been used. Secretary of State Ed Buchanan and Senator John Barrasso were nominated first and later elected by voters. Buchanan told the Star-Tribune that the constitutionality of his appointment was not raised with him at the time.
The new superintendent comes at a pivotal time for Wyoming’s public education system.
Cowboy State’s K-12 education system has long been one of the best-funded in the nation due to fossil fuel money, but that revenue stream alone can no longer sustain the K-12 education due to industry decline.
At the last general session, after a month of debate in committee rooms and on the floor, no chamber could reach agreement on how to move forward. No changes have been made to how Wyoming pays for education.
Additionally, critical race theory and the removal of certain books from school libraries have become hot issues.
In September, Balow appeared with two top senators to introduce the Civic Education and Transparency Act. The superintendent was clear that the bill was intended to challenge critical race theory.
Critical race theory is not currently taught in Wyoming schools, but it came up repeatedly as candidates vied for the position of superintendent before the state’s central committee over the weekend.
If he chooses, Schroeder can run to keep his post as superintendent of public schools, which is up for election this fall. He only lived in Wyoming for a short time, but he will enter the race with some of the luxuries of office, such as name recognition.
Follow state political reporter Victoria Eavis on Twitter @Victoria_Eavis