The Georgia Board of Education voted Dec. 14 to create a committee to oversee state School Superintendent Linda Schrenko’s state-funded web site after board members objected to some of its features, including an online poll.
Schrenko, a Republican often at odds with the board appointed chiefly by Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, called the step “censorship at its best.”
Board Chairman Otis Brumby, publisher of the Marietta Daily Journal, insisted it was not censorship but an effort to better align the education department’s internet site “with board objectives.”
The education department’s web site, one of many on the state computer network, recently added features that allow visitors to answer “quick poll” questions that are changed periodically and to post comments, often anonymously.
Some poll questions were purely academic, including one that asked, “Do teachers put too much academic pressure on students?”
But one question asked respondents to rate Schrenko’s handling of education and school issues, while another asked viewers to rate Barnes on those subjects.
According to statistics displayed on the web site, 50.1 percent of the 126 votes on the Schrenko question rated her performance “excellent” and another 19 percent judged it “good,” while 68 percent of the 122 responses on the Barnes question rated the governor’s performance “poor.”
“Some of the questions are inappropriate for an agency web site,” said board member Cathy Henson, who was elected vice chair in December. “I think some of them are more appropriate for a campaign web site.”
Board member David Smith objected to another question asking which governmentfederal, state, or localshould have primary responsibility for improving education. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for our web site,” he said.
Schrenko said the questions came from a variety of sources, including publications for educational associations. She said she rarely saw them before they were posted.
She told reporters later that “some of the questions were inappropriate,” including the ones asking visitors to rate her job performance and that of Barnes. But she defended the online poll feature as a way to encourage public dialogue.
Brumby said that, just as newspapers do not publish anonymous letters, the department should not allow individuals to post anonymous comments on the site. “I object to people not signing their names,” he said.
In one such posting on the site, an anonymous writer, responding to a question about Barnes’ proposal to allow longer hours for some middle schools, wrote, “I think the Gov. is nuts. …”
Brumby also said the site fails to provide users with a complete account of board decisions. “A lot of actions the board has taken have never been posted there,” he said.
A resolution offered by Brumby and approved by the board creates a new content committee to oversee the site. It will be composed of Brumby and two board members and Schrenko and two departmental staffers.
Schrenko said she will comply with the new restraints, but she seemed less than enthusiastic. “I don’t go out to the Marietta Daily Journal and tell Otis what to put in the paper,” she said. “It’s another micromanagement issue.”
Georgia Department of Education