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Ga. Schools Chief Adjusts After Complaint About Political Activity

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Georgia state schools chief John Barge has removed a press statement from his department's website voicing opposition to the creation of a statewide charter schools commission, a decision his staff said was based on a recommendation from the state's attorney general's office.

The decision came in response to a complaint raised by an Atlanta lawyer, Glenn Delk, who accused Barge, an elected Republican, and a number of local schools superintendents who oppose a referendum to create the commission of improperly mixing politics with their official duties. State law and legal precedent, the lawyer argued, forbid Barge and the others from using public resources to push a political position.

Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education, said Barge removed the statement from state's list of press releases after meeting this week with the staff of state Attorney General Sam Olens, who suggested making the change. Barge's overall position on the November referendum—which would create a statewide commission with the power to approve charters over the objections of local districts—has not changed, Cardoza said, and the superintendent still intends to give his opinion on the issue.

"That issue comes up in a lot of places," Cardoza said.

A spokeswoman for Olens said the office had offered "verbal legal advice" to Barge, but declined further comment.

Delk, in a letter to the AG's office, said the schools chief's action "does not go far enough." At the time he wrote the letter, Delk said that Barge's original statement on the charter school issue could still be found by searching the department's website.

The lawyer also said Barge and his staff should be forbidden from speaking against the referendum while working in their official capacity, such as during business hours. He called for the attorney general to press local school officials to avoid using "public, taxpayer funds" to lobby against the referendum.

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