Texas-bound Bedden concerned whether progress will continue

Richmond County schools Superintendent Dana Bedden faced the media and some community members Wednesday, addressing everything from his upcoming departure to Irving, Texas, to the outlook for his current school district.

Locally, he said, it now looks as though the Richmond County school system will be able to avoid three more furlough days through the end of this school year -- partly because of recent energy conservation measures and higher-than-expected property tax returns to the school system.

"Right now, we know we're ahead of schedule with the dollar figures that are being collected," he said in a news conference that took place less than a week after he accepted a superintendent position at the Irving Independent School District.

The three furlough days recommended earlier this year for school systems by Gov. Sonny Perdue represent about $3 million in Richmond County. Bedden had previously set aside April 30 and May 24 and 25 as days that could have been used if the furloughs proved necessary.

As for Bedden's nearly three-year term in Richmond County, he said he's been most proud of how the school district was able to improve its test scores during his tenure despite tough economic conditions. He said he has no regrets coming to Augusta. "I can't say a bad thing about the place other than the fact that things -- it's nothing bad -- it just didn't work out."

Bedden did say, though, that there continues to be an unfair negative perception of Augusta driven by a minority of vocal naysayers.

"Stop letting the vocal minority ... drive things," he said.

As for the district's future, Bedden said he has concerns whether the changes made to the system in his time will continue to take root.

He said he'll be working with the board in the coming months to determine a most appropriate time for his departure, but he promised to stay at least through the budget process in the next couple months and through high school graduations.

The contract Bedden signed in Irving has a start date of July 1, but the one in Augusta ends July 31.

Bedden also said he'll be reaching out to good superintendents he knows to make them aware of Richmond County's opening.

Bedden said he's excited about his new opportunity in Irving -- becoming their first minority leader -- and looks forward to learning the district, which has a majority Spanish-speaking student base. Bedden said he's not bilingual but expects to start learning Spanish.

Among those at Bedden's Wednesday news conference was a community member who apologized for the public not speaking up enough to keep him here.

"Shame on us," said LaFaye Hargrove, a Columbia County resident who ran a program in Richmond County schools for troubled students.

"I think it's a sad day in our community today."

Bedden said he appreciated the comment and reiterated that his decision to leave had nothing to do with money, even though some school board members couldn't agree whether to offer him a raise amid tough economic times.

"The issue is the board could not come to consensus about what the contract would look like," Bedden said.

Share your opinion online

The school board is asking Richmond County residents to give their input on what they'd like to see in a new superintendent. An online superintendent qualifications survey was posted Wednesday on the school system's Web site -- www.rcboe.org. The results will be forwarded to the Georgia School Boards Association, the group that is helping the school board in its search.

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