5 posts will be on Richmond County ballot

Dana Bedden isn't the only one whose leadership role in Richmond County schools is up in the air this year.

Half of Richmond County's 10-member school board will be on a ballot in November, setting the stage for what some say will be a pivotal year for the board.

"We're at a point, at a crossroad to me with the board," said board member Venus Cain, who is among those up for re-election. She noted that, along with a potential superintendent search and election year, the board will soon start the budgeting for next school year.

"Our focus is going to have to be on several items at one time."

Bedden was recently named the finalist for an open superintendent job in Irving, Texas. Officials say it should be known by mid-March whether Bedden will accept a contract there. His three-year contract in Augusta runs through July 31.

Some school board members say they'd still like to persuade Bedden to stay here but that they'll soon have to start the search for a new leader as a backup plan. The board is to again address the superintendent issue in a meeting sometime this week.

Board Vice President Alex Howard, who also will run for re-election in November, said he'll focus first on the superintendent situation, which he said is "more important than running an election."

He said that if Bedden decides to leave Augusta a new superintendent could be put in place before the election.

Should that not happen as quickly, he said, the superintendent situation would then likely become a key election issue along with how to deal with faltering state funding for the school system.

School board officials are eyeing a projected shortfall of $12 million to $15 million in next year's budget.

Board members Frank Dolan, Jack Padgett and Eloise Curtis also are up for re-election Nov. 2. Qualifying for all five nonpartisan school board races will be June 28-July 2.

Dolan said if Bedden stays in Augusta he won't run again because he'll feel confident in the school system's management. If Bedden leaves, though, Dolan said he would run for a second term to make sure things continue operating smoothly. He said he believes the school board would try to have a new superintendent by September.

Cain said if Bedden leaves it's probably wishful thinking to believe the district could have a replacement named before the November election, meaning it likely would become a campaign issue.

Dolan said one of his biggest campaign issues this year would be pushing for tax incentives for large industries to locate here, thereby growing the area's economy and ultimately boosting funds for schools.

"Changing things right now, just my personal opinion, I think would be a major upset for the district as a whole," she said. "It really could send us back light years."

A phone message left for Curtis wasn't immediately returned, and Padgett was in the hospital this week recouping from scheduled surgery.

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