Originally created 09/19/06

Board backs Larke's choice



Children have taken a back seat in the Richmond County school system in the past eight months, but that should change from this point, Superintendent Charles Larke said Monday.

"When I came on board in June of 1995, I took a slogan from Bankers First that said 'Customers first," and I stole their slogan and said 'Children first,' and I believe in the last 7 to 8 months we have not put children first," he said.

During a news conference Monday, he discussed his retirement, the conclusion of months of controversy and the future of the school system.

Now that months of negotiating over his contract have come to an end, the focus should shift to the 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax referendum that will go before voters in November. The sales tax is the third phase of the school system's construction program.

"SPLOST III is bigger than Charles Larke. It's bigger than the school board," Dr. Larke said. "SPLOST III puts the children first."

The superintendent said he plans to stay in Augusta after his retirement and so wants the best for Augusta.

Deputy Superintendent James Thompson, who will serve as interim superintendent starting Nov. 1, said the special sales tax and the county's middle schools are his top concerns.

The school system has reduced the number of portable trailers serving as classrooms, but Gov. Sonny Perdue pushed for reductions in class size, the deputy superintendent said. That resulted in the need for more classrooms.

Bob Harkrider, who serves on the Richmond County Citizens Oversight Committee for Good Schools, said the sales tax construction program will leave the county with "one of the finest school facilities in the state."

"One man is not going to make or break this plan," he said. "I'm speaking as one taxpayer and one member of the oversight committee."

School board President Marion Barnes isn't sure what effect the superintendent's stepping down might have on the sales tax, but said he hopes voters consider the children in November.

"They will go with the needs of the kids above the personalities," he said.

Up first, though, is the search for a new superintendent, which Mr. Barnes said could take six to nine months to complete.

He didn't say who his choice is for Dr. Larke's successor, but said everyone is eligible.

"I want the best person we can find whether from within or without (the school system)," Mr. Barnes said.

Mr. Thompson, who has spent all of his 32 years as an educator in Richmond County, said he is unsure whether he'll apply to be the permanent superintendent. It will depend on what the qualifications are, he said.

Dr. Larke and the school board agreed to a new contract Thursday.

The contract enables the superintendent to maximize his state retirement benefits by retiring Oct. 31 and staying on to work from home as a consultant making the same pay until March 31.

He could also earn up to $97,000 in annuities, which includes the annuities he lost when he received an unsatisfactory evaluation.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

The Richmond County Board of Education will hold a meeting to discuss conducting a national search to replace Super-intendent Charles Larke. The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. today at the board's central offices, 864 Broad St.