The Troubled Legacy of Richmond County Schools Superintendents

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The Troubled Legacy of Richmond County Schools Superintendents

The news this week that Richmond County schools Superintendent Frank Roberson will be leaving his position when his contract expires in August is both sad and discouraging.

When Roberson was hired back in 2010, much of Richmond County had extremely high expectations for him, even though some people were a little surprised he was chosen for the job considering the size of the district he represented at the time.

Back then, he was the superintendent in Marlboro County, S.C., which meant he oversaw a school system with about 4,800 students.

When you compare that to Richmond County’s more than 32,000 students, some skeptics thought he was out of his league.

But Roberson, a resident of North Augusta and an Aiken County native, seemed determined to prove those skeptics wrong.

He was already well respected in the region.

Rumor had it that the Aiken County School District would have loved to have hired Roberson in 2007, but the timing was off and they couldn’t come to an agreement on the details of his contract.

In 2007, Roberson was the interim superintendent for Edgefield County and Roberson’s interest in Aiken County created an uncomfortable situation for the two. Ultimately, Roberson accepted the position in Marlboro County.

Many insiders in the Richmond County school system seem encouraged that Roberson could turn the county around when he was hired in 2010.

And then, of course, the unavoidable happened.

Roberson suffered from an abnormal collection of blood vessels on the brain and was forced to undergo emergency surgery.

It took about a year and a half before Roberson could return to work. That is a setback few could overcome, but Roberson did his best and he should be commended for what he accomplished.

Now, Richmond County will again be faced with finding a new leader. That task is not an easy one.

When Dr. Dana Bedden left Richmond County in 2010 for a position in Irving, Texas that paid an annual salary of $244,400, many critics were calling him everything from a traitor to a deserter of Richmond County students.

This, despite the fact that as superintendent of Richmond County schools, Bedden was credited with improving academic achievement, restructuring leadership roles within the school system and improving public communication.

People were saying, how dare Bedden take a more high-profile position that paid about $50,000 more than his current contract here in Augusta?

But it appears Bedden earned that extra money during the last several years in Texas.

As soon as he step foot in the Lone Star State, Bedden was heavily criticized by some Hispanic activists for not being bilingual.

After all, <<it>>The Dallas Morning News<<it>> pointed out that, while Richmond County’s student population was only 2 percent Hispanic, Irving was 69 percent Hispanic and 40 percent of the students were limited English proficient.

The Hispanic community will have the opportunity to be heard,” Bedden reportedly told the Irving school board in 2010. “I may not be bilingual but I’ll try to learn.”

Apparently, he didn’t play politics fast enough in Texas because Bedden resigned under pressure from the Irving school district in July 2013.

Just this past December, Bedden was named the newest superintendent in Richmond, Va. and he already has a full plate.

According to the <<IT>>Richmond Times-Dispatch<<IT>>, Bedden will be dealing with an ongoing lawsuit over school rezoning and a school system that is struggling to meet state academic standards, all while suffering from staffing problems.

Good luck with that, Dr. Bedden.

And then there was the always controversial Richmond County schools Superintendent Charles Larke, who at one time had an annual salary and benefits more than the state schools superintendent or the governor of Georgia.

With a salary of more than $278,000, he was one of the highest paid superintendents in the entire state.

And for what? Under his leadership, Richmond County schools were lagging behind the rest of the state. When a number of board members began questioning Larke’s contract and pay with the county, Larke dodged and hid behind the school system spokeswoman Mechelle Jordan.

But the controversy didn’t stop there. Larke was also accused of mishandling more than $620,000 in taxpayers’ money by allowing loans or “advances” to be given to school employees.

Larke appeared to be treating the school board’s funding as an ATM machine for employees during his tenure.

By the time that Larke retired in 2006, a couple of educators had filed federal lawsuits against him.

One female teacher alleged that the superintendent retaliated against her after she rejected his sexual advances during a business trip to Jamaica in 2000. However, a judge ruled against the woman, stating she lacked proof of the sexual harassment.

Another female educator, who had worked in school systems for more than 35 years and was an assistant vice principal at Laney High School in 2003, accused Larke of discriminating against her for being white.

In that case, Larke did not fair very well.

A federal jury ruled in favor of the former vice principal and awarded her $258,000 in damages.

Richmond County doesn’t need another Charles Larke.

It is time for the Richmond County School Board to take a step back and really search for the perfect candidate. Roberson will remain in place until August, so the board has time, but it needs to take the task very seriously.

It’s cliche to say, but the future of the county’s children depends on it.