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Complaint Calls on Ga. Schools Chief to Avoid Politics

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An Atlanta lawyer is telling the state's schools chief to stay out of politics—at least while working in his official capacity.

State Schools Superintendent John Barge recently announced his opposition to a measure on the ballot this November that would create a state commission with the power to approve charter schools, over the objections of local districts.

But lawyer Glenn A. Delk says Barge went a step too far in taking that public position. In a letter to Barge and a group of local school superintendents who have opposed the referendum, he argues that they are violating state law, which "clearly prohibits the use of school tax funds for any purpose other than the support and maintenance of public schools."

State law and court decisions forbid government agencies from engaging in campaigning, argues Delk, citing Georgia statute.

He says that Barge—an elected Republican has angered some conservatives by opposing the measure—used public resources (like public stationary) in issuing statements and materials against the referendum, an amendment to the state's constitution, in August. And the lawyer claims Barge allowed state employees to work on behalf of that same cause, issuing "propaganda for the anti-amendment faction."

Delk, a lawyer who has represented parents and others on school issues, said he was writing on behalf of several taxpayers, who he declined to identify for Education Week. He said he personally supports the referendum.

If Barge and the local superintendents—from the Gwinnett, Atlanta, and Fulton school systems—don't cease the activity, the lawyer says he'll seek to stop them in court.

Barge's office is evidently taking that threat seriously. They declined comment, citing the possibility of litigation.

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