ATLANTA - The State Board of Education will steer clear of political infighting with School Superintendent Linda Schrenko but won't be a rubber stamp for her policies, the board's incoming chairman promised Monday.
Johnny Isakson, a former GOP legislator, joined with Mrs. Schrenko and Democratic Gov. Zell Miller, who appointed the new board, in calling for a truce in the battle that has wracked education policy-makers the past two years.
"I believe working together, you can shift the attention on the state board back to the classroom, where it belongs," Mr. Miller said as he swore in the new members.
"The new state board will not be a rubber stamp for the superintendent, nor will it be an adversary," Mr. Isakson said. "We have too little time and too much to do to worry about anything other than improving public education in Georgia."
Monday's swearing-in for nine new board members at the Governor's Mansion was attended by Mrs. Schrenko; Palmira Braswell of Macon, one of two holdovers on the board; and state welfare director Michael Thurmond, whose sister, Barbara Thurmond Archibald of Athens, is the new board member for the 11th Congressional District.
Board terms are for seven years, but Mr. Miller said the new members signed on for only two. By January 1999, Mr. Miller's successor will be able to choose a new slate of board members.
Since Mrs. Schrenko became the state's first Republican superintendent in January 1995, she and the board have fought for control of the education bureaucracy. At its low point, the feud resulted in the board trying to hire its own lobbyist and public-relations staff to get around Mrs. Schrenko - an idea Mr. Miller quickly vetoed.
After that blowup, Mr. Miller asked the 11-member board to quit.
Current board chairman J.T. Williams of Stockbridge and Ms. Braswell were the only members who insisted on staying past Jan. 1. When Mr. Miller announced the new board in December, he again asked Mr. Williams and Ms. Braswell to resign, but they refused.
Ms. Braswell said she would have no problem working with the new board. Mr. Williams was vacationing in Costa Rica on Monday and could not attend the ceremony.
Mrs. Schrenko expects the new board to elect Mr. Isakson chairman at its first meeting next week.
"I think it's going to be unanimous," Mr. Miller agreed. "I'm not sure it's going to be unanimous on everything after that. I'm not sure it should be."
Besides Mr. Isakson and Ms. Archibald, the new board members are: former Republican state Rep. Willou Smith of St. Simons Island; one-time GOP congressional candidate Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald of Carrollton; ex-federal prosecutor Larry Thompson of Atlanta; Dr. William Grow of Valdosta; Decatur banker Edward Andrews; Gainesville businessman Philip Wilheit; and Augusta businessman E.G. Meybohm.
Mr. Isakson, who six years ago ran against Mr. Miller for governor, pledged his cooperation.
"We will never lose sight that our united goal is to support the teacher, to improve the education of the child, and to give the taxpayer a 100 percent return on their investment," said Mr. Isakson."There are no secrets and hidden agendas. There is only one thing that is important, and that's better education for the children of Georgia."