State school super weighing a run for governor
by Dick Yarbrough
Columnist
August 21, 2013 12:06 AM | 1606 views | 3 3 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dick Yarbrough
Dick Yarbrough
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If public education in Georgia doesn’t have enough problems, there is now a high-profile ruckus between Gov. Nathan Deal and State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge. It has gotten so peevish that there is talk that the school superintendent may challenge Deal in the Republican gubernatorial primary next spring.

This brouhaha seems to have its origins in Dr. Barge’s opposition to the charter school amendment, which was passed handily by Georgia voters last November. Recently, the governor’s office pulled the Governor’s Honors Program for elite high school students out of the Department of Education and sources tell me other programs may soon follow.

I caught up with Barge by telephone in Cordele last week while he was touring school districts in the region and asked him if he is serious about taking on a well-funded incumbent. He said he would let me — and you — know “within the next three weeks.” But, he certainly sounds like a guy who is running.

“If Nathan Deal wins re-election, you won’t recognize public education when he is through,” Barge says. He suspects that what the governor is planning to do is much like what has happened in Wyoming. There, the governor has removed most of the authority from the elected school superintendent and placed it in his office, leaving the superintendent with an honors program, transportation responsibilities and a staff of eight.

Truth in advertising requires me to say that in checking up on the situation in Wyoming, the superintendent there — a tea party stalwart — seems to have created a lot of the issues herself with her management style — or lack thereof.

But back to Georgia, having a state school superintendent who is elected by the voters being politically neutered by the governor and fiscally punished by a Legislature mesmerized by deep-pocketed out-of-state “for choice” groups because they don’t like his policies is troubling to say the least. If we voters don’t approve of what the school superintendent is doing, isn’t it our responsibility to express that disapproval at the ballot box? Otherwise, why have an elected superintendent? Do away with the position and put Howdy Doody on the job. Puppets are much easier to manage.

The governor’s office came out firing recently, saying that if Barge runs for governor, “we can now elect an education leader who’ll work on behalf of our children instead of playing politics” and adding, “a great education is a major factor in our state’s economic development.”

Barge chuckles at those comments and says that Deal’s current economic development trip to China includes Hank Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia and Ron Jackson, commissioner of Georgia’s Technical College System, but not him.

“I wasn’t invited,” he says simply.

In his defense, Barge has been on the job for less than three years. Georgia has been reducing the formula funding local school systems for 10 years. Speaking of “working on behalf of children,” 121 school districts have had to cut the school year due to the lack of funding, and in the past five years, more than 4,000 Georgia public school teachers have been laid off. I’m not sure we can put all the blame for this sorry record on the state school superintendent.

Longtime political observer and columnist Tom Crawford noted recently that “the state’s political leadership evidently considers it more important to spend $200 million in tax proceeds on a new football stadium for billionaire NFL owner Arthur Blank than to provide enough money to keep our classrooms open for 180 days a year. That’s madness.” That’s true and that’s reprehensible.

Barge says despite the lack of support and charges of defending the status quo, Georgia leads the country in growth on national education tests — SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement and the National Assessment of Educational Progress in Math, Reading and Science — and is the only state in the nation to make gains on each test in the most recent administration of them.

“We must be doing something right,” he quips.

If the superintendent runs — and I believe he will — “uphill” doesn’t begin to describe the challenge Barge has ahead of him. He is going to have to develop a grassroots organization of the first magnitude because big-money contributors always bet on the incumbent. Deal already has a war chest estimated at $1.1 million.

But before you completely write the man off, remember the unknown Republican state senator from Bonaire who took on a powerful Democratic incumbent in 2002? We all know how that turned out.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139
Comments
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Taint right
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August 21, 2013
A state decision to put the health care of 650,000 state workers in the hands of Blue Cross/Blue Shield – and only that company – is provoking angst among employees.

But the switch is also generating enthusiasm within the anti-abortion movement, for with it comes a ban on coverage for all abortions, except when the life of the mother is at risk.

This morning, state School Superintendent John Barge, scoping out a GOP primary challenge to Gov. Nathan Deal, focuses on the former rather than the latter. From a just-received email:

“While I am not privy to the details behind this decision, it appears, based on the information provided, that the bid process may have been tainted.

“Anything but a fully transparent and open bidding process to choose the health care provider for over a half million employees, including over a hundred thousand teachers, is concerning.”

Old timer
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August 31, 2013
Ues, there needs to be an open bidding process...and some state employees who use this should be involved. I am very disappointed.
anonymous
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August 21, 2013
Many Republicans would love an alternative to Nathan Deal and never liked him in the first place.

Much luck to Barge, should he decide to run. He could not do any worse than what we have now.
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