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December 9, 2004

Schrenko shatters more glass ceilings with her indictment

From: Gainesville Times, GA - Dec 9, 2004

Our views

Linda Schrenko, former state superintendent of schools, is expected to go to trial in January after being indicted with two others for theft of about $600,000 in federal funds. The money was earmarked for computers at two schools for the deaf and the Governor's Honors Program.

The indictment also charged that $9,300 of the funds was used for the face-lift she acknowledged in 2002, and $250,000 went to her losing campaign for governor.

A longer history of Schrenko's life verifies one of life's valuable truths: After you get there, you learn that the grass in the other pasture is not greener after all.

Schrenko was a schoolteacher who had become a principal in Columbia County, population about 85,000 and county seat Appling. She was married, had a family and a good-paying valuable job, but she wanted more. Today she is divorced, bankrupt and facing charges that can put her in prison.

In the early 1990s, the Christian Coalition was gaining political power, and Schrenko decided to run for Georgia's superintendent of schools against incumbent Werner Rogers. She already had dabbled in politics by running for school superintendent of Columbia County, but lost.

In her campaign for superintendent, she said she favored teaching of the Bible and creationism in the state's public schools and got the Christian Coalition's full support.

She was elected and became a star overnight. It was 1994, and she was the first Republican to be elected state school superintendent and the first woman to be elected to statewide office. She remained the favorite of the Christian Coalition and the Republican Party and was elected again in 1998.

In the meantime, some of her reported actions as state school superintendent were extremely foolish. But her fans attributed it to partisan battles with other state officials who were Democrats. Also, supporters said, Schrenko was trained as a schoolteacher and as state school superintendent she was operating a department with a $6 billion budget.

This last reasoning for foolish actions was a hollow excuse, because she had a well-trained staff and a board of education that knew the ropes.

If she is found guilty, will she get the state pension that people worried about? She was reported to be 12 days short of qualification when she was beaten in her run for governor.

Her fans were worried that she might have to do menial labor in some state office for 12 days to become qualified, but state officials announced that she would receive the full pension without any problem.

Being indicted for a crime does not mean that someone is guilty, and Schrenko as well as her attorneys vow that she has done no wrong.

But Schrenko's life is not rosy, and about all that can be said is that she has broken another glass ceiling by being the first female elected state official to be indicted for theft of public funds.

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