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State Journal: Lump sum; Local control

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The Iowa attorney general's office is reviewing a $24,500 payment that Gov. Terry E. Branstad approved for Al Ramirez when he resigned as the state schools chief in September.

The state auditor raised questions about the confidential nature of the resignation agreement and the lump-sum payment. "Let's say it's unusual," said Warren Jenkins, the state's chief deputy auditor.

"The governor remains confident that this was a legal contract," said Christina Martin, Mr. Branstad's press secretary.

For his part, Mr. Ramirez characterized the Democratic state auditor's move as a politically motivated attack on a Republican governor.

"I feel like a political football being kicked around," said Mr. Ramirez, who was appointed by Mr. Branstad in December 1993.

Mr. Ramirez received the payment on Sept. 22, the day his resignation became effective, as part of a contract that secures his services as a consultant through the end of December.

"When issues come up where he has that expertise, we'll call him," said Klark Jessen, a spokesman for the state education department.

Mr. Ramirez and Ms. Martin denied a charge by a Democratic state senator that Mr. Ramirez was fired due to political differences with the governor and given monetary compensation.

"Mr. Ramirez resigned," Ms. Martin said. "He notified the governor that it was his intention to pursue other opportunities."

Linda Schrenko was elected Georgia's state schools chief last fall on a platform that stressed local control of schools. But officials in Forsyth County are questioning whether she practices what she preaches.

They say that in discussions with a Christian Coalition official, Ms. Schrenko this month accused the leading candidate for the local superintendent's job, Arlene Magill, of misusing state-lottery money and shutting parents out of decisions as superintendent in Paulding County.

Those complaints were passed on to the Forsyth County school board, which hired Ms. Magill anyway. Eddie Taylor, the board's chairman, said it asked Christian Coalition officials to join a fact-finding trip to Paulding County, but the coalition officials pulled out at the last minute.

Ms. Shrenko said she made a single call only to answer a question and did not level any criticism of Ms. Magill.

"Trying to influence a local board is contrary to everything I believe," she said in an interview.

--Robert C. Johnston & Lonnie Harp

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