You know how they sometimes set fire to an area just to stop another fire from spreading? That's what the Richmond County Board of Education just did.
Board members agreed Thursday to pay the problematic Superintendent Charles Larke to step aside in October and become a home-based consultant until his retirement in March. He'll also get the big annuity payment he's been wanting during nearly half a year of contentious negotiations with the board.
Certainly taxpayers have a right to feel burned; at a minimum Larke will receive a salary of more than $108,000 over the next seven months, to be doled out at the rate of $15,367 a month. Distasteful, yes. But given the ugly circumstances, the settlement is nonetheless best for the county and school system.
There were plenty of reasons to summarily fire Larke - the district's abysmal academic performance, his "unsatisfactory" evaluation, his uncooperative attitude, and a number of court cases, including a racial discrimination verdict against him that will cost taxpayers up to $500,000.
And then there were the thousands in unauthorized loans he handed out to selected school system employees - an utterly outrageous practice the board finally put an end to Thursday night.
Trustees practically had to self-immolate to get rid of Larke because of his sweetheart, three-year contract which had two long, painful years remaining on it. But at least the "set" fire of the settlement will prevent the other fire from raging on. The community will be spared a public hearing in which Larke's shortcomings would have beengraphically aired - and Larke firing back.
We'll also be spared the untold expense of it all.
Moreover, some in the community may have tried to make a racial issue out of Larke's firing. Such incendiary allegations tend to consume more than their share of time and attention.
Most important, the settlement allows the school district to move on - a benefit that cannot be overstated. Whatever Larke's shortcomings, and they are many, his biggest is his dogged determination to wring every last dime he could out of taxpayers in building a golden bridge to his retirement in March.
His single-minded ambition to enrich himself led the school board to leave many tasks undone or hastily assembled - such as the decision to ask voters for a multimillion-dollar sales tax extension in November. The Larke mess left almost no time, or credible superintendent, to sell it.
All the while, Rome has been burning. Each one of the district's 10 middle schools has languished on the needs-improvement list under federal law; three of them have done so for the entire seven years of the No Child Left Behind Act.
There have been disciplinary problems - apparently more than we know: Murphey Middle School was alleged to have concealed perhaps hundreds of incidents from the state and public.
Charles Larke's distracting and all-consuming Self-Interest Tour not only has prevented the district from putting out the above fires, but also has tamped down any notions of embarking on ambitious reforms, such as radical expansion of the magnet school concept, so successful at several of the district's schools.
Perhaps when the smoke clears, we can get on with trying to make education in Augusta better.
And with finding a superintendent willing to focus on that, instead of his bank account.
Deal or no deal?
The school board has finally reached an agreement with Richmond County School Superintendent Dr. Charles Larke regarding his retirement. We want to hear your opinions on the deal. Go to www.augustachronicle.com/talk/larke and send us your thoughts. Or write us at:
Letters to the editor
P.O. Box 1928
Augusta, GA 30903-1928
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