Bedden warns of 'crisis'

Special
Superintendent Dana Bedden said he sought help from the city and Fort Gordon.

Short on people and strapped for money, the technology department in Richmond County schools is a "crisis waiting to happen," Superintendent Dana Bedden said Thursday.

Resources are stretched so thin that he has advised against buying too many classroom computers out of concern that a meager staff of six employees won't be able to install and maintain them. The six employees oversee the technology needs of 60 schools and the school board's offices.

"We are, in my mind, a crisis waiting to happen with our technology situation," he said.

Dr. Bedden has turned to the city of Augusta and Fort Gordon for any help either can lend should a problem arise.

The technology department lacks a designated leader. The director of data processing retired, and the assistant director position was removed from the budget. The board has been trying to fill the chief technology officer position.

"I basically went crawling and begging to the Signal Corp and the county for help because of the number of employees we lost," Dr. Bedden told school board members. "Everybody we talked to said the job doesn't pay what it's asking for."

On Thursday night, the school board contracted with Ann Marie Marshall to serve as the acting chief technology officer, a position established on the recommendation of MGT of America's audit to oversee both the educational and business technology aspects of the school system.

The position had been advertised, but Dr. Bedden wasn't comfortable with the pool of applicants and preferred to hire someone in the interim while he conducts another search.

Ms. Marshall comes on the recommendation of Tameka Allen, the city's director of information technology. Mrs. Allen recently led a team of city employees who reviewed the school system's technology needs. She reported to the school board this week that the system is doing well with its limited resources, but she listed a few issues that need to be addressed, including redundancy, a lack of documentation and no technology replacement plan.

Finding a suitable chief technology officer could prove difficult, Dr. Bedden said, because of the low pay and limited resources for the department.

"We've got to find compassionate people who feel a calling because we certainly can't compete with the industry," the superintendent said.

According to the school system, about $3.85 million is allocated in the general fund for technology, including personnel. Another $1.4 million comes from sales tax revenue.

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

IN OTHER BUSINESS

Also Thursday, the board:
- Restructured the Title I office, reducing its staff from 24.5 positions to 16.3 positions.
- Restructured the human resources department, decreasing the number of director-level positions but grandfathering in employees at their current salary.
- Contracted with PHD Vision to write grants and evaluate grant programs. For $50,000, the company guarantees a $500,000 to $1 million return within two years.
- Changed the public hearing dates for the proposed tax increase. The hearings will be at noon and 6 p.m. July 21 and 4 p.m. July 24.
- Reapplied for the 21st Century Learning Center Hope Project Grant.