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Lawsuit Alleges Political Activity on Taxpayer Dime in Ga.

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A lawsuit filed in Georgia alleges that officials in the Gwinnett and Fulton county school systems—and by extension, other districts across the state—have taken part in political activity on the public dime in opposing a statewide charter schools referendum.

It's the latest turn in a battle about whether state and local officials improperly used taxpayer resources to take positions against the ballot item, which would establish a state commission with the power to create charter schools over the objections of individual school districts.

The complaint was initiated by an Atlanta lawyer, Glenn Delk, who also initially alleged that State School Superintendent John Barge and his staff were improperly using public resources to take shots at the referendum, which would amend Georgia's state constitution to create the commission.

The lawsuit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, says that the Gwinnett and Fulton county school officials have also mixed politics with their official business in opposing the referendum, which goes before voters on Nov. 6.
Campaign 2012

The legal action was brought by a group of five plaintiffs who identify themselves as "taxpayers and registered voters" in Georgia, and it names the two school systems as representatives of all school districts throughout the state.

The lawsuit claims that the school district officials have worked against the ballot measure in concert with organizations such as the Georgia School Boards Association and Georgia School Superintendents Association, who are collectively and somewhat ominously referred to as the "Education Empire" in the court document.

In the week after the initial complaint was made about Barge, the schools chief arranged to remove public statements he made about the referendum from his website. A banner was posted last week on the state's site, saying "Georgia Department of Education Takes No Position on the Charter School Consitutional Amendment." A spokesman said last week that Barge will continue to offer his "personal opinion" on the referendum.

Delk tells Education Week that Barge is not named in the lawsuit because of the steps he has taken to change his official activities with regard to the ballot measure.

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