"She has moved far to the left - and I can document it."- John Roddy, former Georgia Department of Education official on Linda Schrenko
IN OCTOBER 1995 former U.S. Education Department official John Roddy was hired by state School Superintendent Linda Schrenko as director of federal programs for the Georgia Department of Education. By her own account, up until last spring, my old college friend was a loyal worker who worked to implement her agenda.
By the time the 2000 General Assembly was in full swing, though, Roddy and other Department of Education employees noticed a change. Their Republican boss, once a foe of the National Education Association-affiliated teachers' union, had become its ally in the escalating battle with Gov. Roy Barnes over the direction of education reform.
By December - and without the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting - she gave this dedicated Christian conservative clergyman a surprise Christmas present: She recommended to the state Board of Education that he be fired.
It was a close board vote, with chairman Otis Brumby vigorously defending Roddy. But a board majority prodded by members who worship at the altar of the teachers' union carried the day. As Schrenko watched approvingly, they rejoiced in sticking a knife in his back.
One reason the pagan left in this state wanted Roddy's scalp is because he authored the implementation guide for Georgia's character-education law. One of the 27 character traits that must be taught to comply with that law is "Respect for the Creator," and Roddy says he framed the guide to approach this trait from an historical and legal point of view. A poster for classrooms was created showing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and our national motto "In God We Trust" that would be distributed to schools through non-governmental channels.
"Before promoting the posters, Federal Programs checked with Department of Education staff attorney Melanie Stockwell and was assured that the posters were constitutional," Roddy says. "A contract employee was instructed by me to advise school districts that this was one way to teach `Respect for the Creator."'
After several months passed, the People for the American Way threatened to sue the Lumpkin County school system if the posters were displayed. Roddy says he "received a call from Stockwell telling me that I was in serious trouble with Superintendent Schrenko for having misrepresented the Georgia DOE on this issue. Stockwell called the posters `religious posters,' parroting the PAW's line. When I reminded her that she had given a legal opinion that the posters were `constitutional,' she denied it."
Things then went from bad to worse.
"Later that same week," Roddy said, "I was accused by Linda of illegally transferring $80,000 of Federal Programs money to the Georgia Humanities Council to set up the Character Education Resource Center. I was told that I would be fired at the August state Board of Education meeting. I had to laugh. The $80,000 was a grant that had been approved the year before by the board. To add insult to injury I was forced to produce the board minutes that proved this fact. Needless to say I was not fired. In fact, I dared her to fire me over this issue. I would be proud to be fired for promoting `Respect for the Creator."'
Ironically, in 1999, Roddy's shop won a competitive $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish three demonstration character-education programs in Georgia as a model for other states. Even though Roddy and his staff had begun operating these programs, he recalls the superintendent "huffily exclaimed that `Respect for the Creator' was not to be promoted or discussed and told me to cancel all of my appointments with school district officials concerning this."
What a sad commentary on Linda Schrenko - who many of us once thought was a champion of the "Respect for the Creator" program.
In another paradox, just after Roddy was removed Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker (a Democrat) issued an official response to the threatened Lumpkin County suit. Both the "Respect for the Creator" provision of the state law and the "In God We Trust" posters are constitutional, Baker said.
That opinion is gratifying, Roddy says, but notes the superintendent's "new-found friends at the National Education Association don't like any mention of God in our public schools, even when the Declaration of Independence is the vehicle for that reference. Linda is singing their song now hoping for campaign bucks and teachers' votes."
This disillusioned Christian who toiled in the education vineyards flatly says, "Linda Schrenko has changed her stands. I knew the old Linda, worked with her and for her and, believe me, she is not the same person now."
What's next? Roddy ruefully looks into the crystal ball. "She is actively dismantling the safeguards that we built in to ensure that sex education in Georgia is truly abstinence-based, as state law requires."