Local News

November 1, 2012

Barge, Deal at odds over key Race to the Top appointment

Gov. Nathan Deal and state School Superintendent John Barge aren’t just butting heads over the charter schools constitutional amendment.

They are now at odds over a key appointment to oversee the $400 million Race to the Top federal education grant program, according to sharply worded letters that were exchanged between the two men and obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request.

The letters underscore what appears to be a frayed relationship between the men and the challenges they could face in making sure the giant education grant program is implemented smoothly.

The appointment tiff started when Deal tapped Teresa MacCartney to serve as head of his Office of Planning and Budget. MacCartney had served as a deputy superintendent at the Georgia Department of Education, where she oversaw implementation of the Race to the Top education improvement program.

From there, the picture is muddled.

Barge says Deal asked him to replace MacCartney with Kristin Bernhard, who has served as Deal’s education policy adviser. Deal said he said he only wanted Bernhard to oversee Race to the Top implementation.

That, however, is precisely the role MacCartney occupied, Barge said, and he had someone else in mind — Clara Keith, associate superintendent for Race to the Top implementation.

Barge wrote Deal on Oct. 24 to tell the governor that he was appointing Keith.

“I believe that hiring Ms. Bernhard in this senior level position with no prior educational experience, over many who are more experienced and better qualified, would have the potential to create a contentious work environment within the Department of Education,” Barge wrote Deal.

The governor fired back the next day. “Apparently, you forgot that I told you I was not asking that she be appointed as a Deputy Superintendent, only that she be responsible for overseeing the implementation and that she have a direct line to you, me and the U.S. Department of Education.”

Deal, whose office is ultimately responsible for making sure that the federal money is used in accordance with the state’s grant application, wrote Barge that he hoped the superintendent would give him input in the appointment decision.

Barge has the authority to make the selection, and he chose Keith.

While both Deal and Barge are Republicans elected statewide, they have clashed on the charter schools amendment issue, with the governor supporting its passage and the superintendent opposed.

Barge said he does not know if Deal’s determination to have a say in the Race to the Top appointment is linked to frustration over the charter schools issue.

Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, said the issue is collaboration.

“When the superintendent said he didn’t want to hire Gov. Deal’s suggested candidate to administer Race to the Top, the governor simply asked that they work cooperatively on filling the position,” Robinson said. “The governor said he hoped that together they could find someone who has an open door with the governor’s office, the superintendent’s office and the U.S. Department of Education. The next correspondence was a letter to the governor announcing that a decision was made.”

The U.S. Department of Education has placed a portion of Georgia’s Race to the Top on high-risk status, a designation that could lead to grant revocation.

Barge, however, said his department has the information the federal government demanded in placing Georgia’s grant on high-risk status. He said the appointment dispute will not lessen his determination to have a good relationship with Deal in implementing the grant program.

“We’ve had a really solid working relationship with the governor’s office on Race to the Top,” Barge said. “We just happen to have a different opinion as to who should fill this particular position.”

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