The office of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is disputing accusations that the reason he asked schools to close for two early “snow days” on Sept. 26 and 27 was to save enough fuel to harvest the state’s crops this fall.
According to an Oct. 6 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, lobbyists for Georgia’s oil and gas industry “met with top administration aides” just hours before the governor announced the request at a Friday-afternoon press conference Sept. 23.
Their conversation, the newspaper reported, included the suggestion that farmers were worried about their harvest, and that closing schools for two days would save 225,000 gallons of gas a day. Gov. Perdue cited the same figures when he made his request, which noted possible supply disruptions from the then-approaching Hurricane Rita. (“Rita Closes Many Texas, Louisiana Schools,” Oct. 5, 2005.)
But Dan McLagan, the governor’s spokesman, said last week that there was no such meeting. He said members of the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, which is in charge of fuel storage in the state, had been having ongoing conference calls with oil and gas representatives, school districts, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other groups that were concerned about the supply of diesel fuel following Hurricane Katrina.
Some school districts, he added, were already expecting to run out of fuel by Wednesday, Sept. 28.
State schools Superintendent Kathy Cox publicly supported the governor’s decision, even though she voiced sympathy with parents who had to scramble to find arrangements for their children when all but three of Georgia’s 180 school districts heeded the governor’s call to close.
But Ms. Cox—who, like Mr. Perdue, is a Republican—is being criticized for standing by the governor. “When Gov. Sonny Perdue debated closing public schools to save gasoline, the most vociferous voice in protest should have belonged to Kathy Cox,” wrote an editorial writer in the Journal-Constitution on Oct. 10. “Instead, hers was among the most restrained.”
Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the state education department, said, “She had to trust that he was doing the best for the state.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2005 edition of Education Week