Banks may take Ga. schools chief's game show prize

ATLANTA - The $1 million that Georgia schools Superintendent Kathy Cox won for charity on a game show last fall could end up in the hands of her creditors because of her personal bankruptcy filing.

Cox had announced she was giving the money to three public schools for deaf and blind students, but it is unclear now whether the institutions will get the prize she won in August on Fox's "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" said attorneys working on the bankruptcy case. Alex Teel, the attorney for the bankruptcy trustee, said his client is exploring making a claim on the prize money.

"If in fact that was her money - it belonged to her - and she made a decision to give it away when she owed hundred of thousands of dollars, I think our position is it could be recovered by the trustee for the benefit of creditors," Teel said Wednesday.

A decision on whether to go after the money should be made in the next few weeks, he said. The news that the money is in limbo was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Cox and her husband, John, filed for bankruptcy Nov. 17, claiming $3.5 million in debt because of his Fayette County homebuilding business. Cox said in a statement on Wednesday that it is "sad that banks and lawyers are standing in the way" of the money getting to the schools.

"Despite the financial difficulty my family was facing, it was always my intention to give the winnings from my appearance on 'Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?' to our three state schools," she said.

She set up a foundation to distribute the money to the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf in Clarkston, the Georgia School for the Deaf in northwest Georgia and to the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon. But the investment firm chosen to run the foundation returned the money to the Fox Broadcasting Co. last month because it didn't want to get involved in the bankruptcy proceedings, Cox's attorney, Karen Fagin White, said Wednesday.

Fox spokesman Scott Grogin confirmed the company has received the money but declined to comment further.

Cox's appearance on the program drew fire from state lawmakers and educators upset that she would appear on a game show when Georgia was in the middle of a financial crisis that would cut millions from the K-12 budget. During the show's broadcast, state Rep. Rob Teilhet, a Democrat from Smyrna, ran an ad criticizing Cox, a Republican, for being on the show "while students are struggling here in Georgia."

The Coxes filed under Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy code. It allows debtors to keep and continue paying for some assets, such as homes and cars, while other assets are liquidated to pay creditors.

Cox makes $130,000 in salary annually as head of the Georgia Department of Education.

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