CASPER — Gov. Mark Gordon on Thursday appointed the head of a private Christian school in Cody to serve as Wyoming’s next superintendent of public instruction.
Brian Schroeder, who oversees the Veritas Academy, will serve out the remainder of the superintendent’s term, which ends in January 2023. He replaces Jillian Balow, who resigned earlier this month to take the same post in Virginia.
Schroeder’s appointment 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 reviewed application materials and conducted interviews with all the candidates that came through the selection process, and after much prayer and careful consideration I have determined that Brian Schroeder is best suited to fill the Superintendent’s position,” Gordon said in a press release. “Brian demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that parents are intricately involved in their children’s education, just as it should be. I will work to ensure a smooth transition in leadership for the Wyoming Department of Education.”
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 Saturday on its top three choices. Gordon was statutorily required to make a decision on one of the candidates by Thursday.
Schroeder beat out Marti Halverson, a far-right former state representative and chairman of the Lincoln County GOP, and Thomas Kelly, the chair of the Political and Military Science Department at American Military University.
Schroeder has worked as a teacher and administrator in 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 humbled beyond words at this incredible opportunity to serve the students, teachers and parents of Wyoming,” Schroeder said in the press release. “I’ll do my best to help strengthen education for the future of our state.”
The new superintendent earned his bachelor’s degree from Maranatha Baptist University and has a Masters degree in professional counseling from Liberty University.
Replacing Balow did not go by without some hiccups.
Former Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau and 15 others filed a lawsuit this week against Gordon, the Wyoming Republican Party, the party’s chairman and the Wyoming Republican State Central Committee over the selection process.
The plaintiffs included Dave Northrup, a former state lawmaker and an unsuccessful candidate for the superintendent position, Doug Camblin, the Campbell County GOP committeeman, Rex Arney, a former state lawmaker, as well as a dozen voters from all across the political spectrum. They were represented by former Attorney General Pat Crank.
The plaintiffs alleged that the process of selecting 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 county’s population. This, they claim, violates the “one man-one vote” principle in both the Wyoming and U.S. constitutions.
On Wednesday, a U.S. District judge barred Gordon from choosing a candidate until noon Thursday to have time to review the materials.
The defendants’ lawyers 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 the three nominees won by overwhelming margins in the central committee’s vote.
U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl ultimately ruled against the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary halt on 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. Additionally, Plaintiffs have failed to establish irreparable injury.”
Skavdahl added in the conclusion that “Plaintiffs argue they have a likelihood of success on the merits but ignore Supreme Court precedent relevant to their case.”
Following the decision, Crank said he thinks the “future is bright’’ because a federal judge acknowledged the issues that arise when all counties get the same number of votes in these matters. But there’s also a route outside of the courts.
“If this is to be fixed, the citizens need to petition their Legislature and the Legislature needs to take action to solve this election integrity problem,” Crank said.
The lawsuit could move forward, even as Schroeder holds office.
Skavdahl ruled on a motion seeking a temporary halt to the process. The process at issue has been used before. Both Secretary of State Ed Buchanan and Sen. John Barrasso were first appointed before later being elected by voters. Buchanan told the Star-Tribune the constitutionality of his appointment was not raised to him at the time.
The new superintendent arrives at a pivotal time for Wyoming’s public education system. The Cowboy State’s K-12 education system has long been one of the best funded in the nation because of money from fossil fuels, but that revenue stream alone can no longer support K-12 education due to declines in the industry.
This past general session, after a month of debate in committee rooms and on the floor, neither chamber could come to an agreement on how to move forward. No changes were made to how Wyoming pays for education.
Additionally, critical race theory and removing certain books from school libraries have become hot button issues.
In September, Balow appeared with two top state senators to introduce the Civics and Transparency Act. The superintendent was clear the bill was intended to challenge critical race theory. Critical race theory is not currently being taught in Wyoming schools, but it came up repeatedly as candidates vied for the superintendent position before the state central committee over the weekend.
If he chooses, Schroeder can run to keep his position as state schools superintendent, which is up for election this fall. He has only lived in Wyoming a short time, but he will enter the race with some of the luxuries of incumbency such as name recognition.