Bedden was busy until end

His last day on the job, Richmond County schools Superintendent Dana Bedden sat in a mostly bare office Friday, reflecting on his past three years and how they were ending in a flurry of activity.

Remarking specifically on how he had responded to three recent incidents at Glenn Hills High School -- accusations that a bookkeeper stole activities funds, the principal's arrest on a DUI charge and a yearbook's depiction of students as criminals -- Bedden said he's now a firm believer that "long goodbyes become messy."

"Now I understand why someone came up with the idea of a two-week notice," he said in jest.

Bedden, who has worked in Richmond County for nearly four months since announcing he would take a superintendent job in Irving, Texas, left the district Friday in the hands of interim Superintendent James Whitson.

Whitson isn't seeking the job long term but could fill it for as long as three months. Though some school board members had hoped to have a new superintendent before the next school year starts, that might not happen now.

"My thoughts are we would -- best case scenario -- start (with a new superintendent) right about as the school year starts, but it may end up being a couple of weeks into it," said board member Jimmy Atkins, noting that candidate interviews likely won't start until next month.

Atkins said he doesn't want the board to drag its feet, but he said the system's situation is different than it was in 2007, when there was a push to get someone in quickly to reform it.

"I just don't feel the sense of urgency (to select a new leader) that there was three years ago," he said.

Bedden said Friday he thinks he has helped transform the system from one that was mostly reactive to one that's proactive.

"People do tell me the system is better than it was," he said, noting how he always focused on the successes of the system and not past failures or area misconceptions. "Richmond County isn't as bad as some people portray it."

On Friday morning, he kept busy responding to community complaints about the former Glenn Hills bookkeeper, who avoided prosecution by agreeing to resign and pay restitution on $14,400 that went missing. Bedden said he felt good about his decision, noting that it got the money back quickly.

"I bring closure in taking care of the children before walking off into the sunset," he said.

It was a sunset he didn't intend to meet after just three years. He acknowledged Friday that he initially intended to stay in Augusta for at least five or six years. He touts rising graduation rates and test scores, but allows that he didn't stay long enough to accomplish all he wanted.

He said his goal was to bring the system to an 80 percent graduation rate. The system's rate rose from 63.8 percent in 2008 to 70.4 percent in 2009.

He said he also wanted to expand academic programs, including offering Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs at Cross Creek High School.

Bedden said stalled contract negotiations with the school board led to his leaving.

He said the negotiations lasted a year, the biggest sticking point being a disagreement about whether performance pay should be included in his contract. Bedden said he opposed having the $15,000 be contingent on him meeting certain goals.

Bedden said the performance pay option had created too much controversy in the past, and he instead asked that the $15,000 be included in his base pay, raising it from about $190,000 to $205,000.

He said he also asked for an additional $15,000, but only to be received once all workers' furlough cuts were restored. Ultimately, Bedden said the board couldn't come to a consensus.

Looking back on it all, he said, "I have no ill feelings. I think things happen for a reason."

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