Georgia schools chief John Barge takes down online primer on charter vote

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ATLANTA — State School Superintendent John Barge has reached an agreement with Attorney General Sam Olens on the school chief’s political activity regarding a statewide referendum on charter schools, a Barge spokesman said Friday.

But the attorney whose complaint prompted the action says it’s not good enough.

Barge spokesman Matt Cardoza confirmed that the Department of Education has removed from its Web site a written primer on the constitutional amendment that would allow the state to issue charters for private operators to run taxpayer-financed schools. Barge’s Q&A does not explicitly tell Georgians how to vote, but makes his position clear.

Cardoza said Barge took the document down after consulting with Olens’ office about a written complaint from an Atlanta attorney. Glenn Delk, who has not disclosed his clients, accused Barge and several local school system authorities of violating state law that generally limits the use of public resources for political activity.

After the legal consultation, Cardoza said, “we voluntarily took down the document.” Cardoza emphasized, though, that Barge remains opposed to the amendment, and he said the superintendent will still speak candidly about his opposition.

In his complaint, Delk cited state law and Georgia Supreme Court decisions that he says block Barge from a variety of activities leading up to the Nov. 6 vote. Delk said that includes speaking in his official capacity.

“John Barge is free to give a speech as an individual,” Delk said.

The argument could become one of semantics. Cardoza said Barge “speaks to ... groups quite often but is not going to them to specifically or exclusively speak about the charter amendment.” But, he added, “When he is asked questions about the amendment he will address them.”

Delk also noted that Barge distributed his primer to local school authorities around the state. That means it is being used in a political fashion barred by the law, he argued.

Delk said he told an assistant state attorney general that he would wait until next week before deciding how to proceed, in part because he is waiting to hear from attorneys for local system officials.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office declined comment.


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