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A failure of leadership in the Fayette school system

Cal Beverly's picture

Wednesday evening just after 6 p.m. the Fayette County Board of Education came out of a session closed to the taxpaying public and voted 4-to-1 in favor of a “mutual termination agreement” for Jeff Bearden, for two years the superintendent of the local school system.

One day later, we — meaning the media, the 3,000 school system employees, some 20,000 students and tens of thousands of taxpaying residents of Fayette County — still are in the dark about what happened in that three-hour secret session to bring all of us to this point: A system in crisis, now leaderless.

[Click here for the story of the Wednesday executive session action.]

UPDATED 6:29 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 — Here's what 24 hours of high-priced legal and educational talent produced:


“At a specially called meeting on Sept. 19, 2012, the Superintendent and Board of Education agreed, in accordance with the terms of the Superintendent’s employment agreement, to a mutual termination of that agreement effective Jan. 1, 2013.

“The Board of Education expresses its appreciation to Dr. Bearden for his leadership and many initiatives that have improved the School District during his service as Superintendent.

“Dr. Bearden expresses his thanks and gratitude for the encouragement and most of all the support of the staff, parents, and community.

“The Superintendent and all Board members are committed to a smooth and productive transition, continuing to address the needs of the School System and providing the best possible education for the students of Fayette County.”

That's it. The official word has been dispensed from the Board of Education’s absentee Gainesville attorney Phillip Hartley, the system’s central office, and the elected five school board members.

The official word. That basically says nothing.

So — what happens next?

We are assured it will be a "smooth and productive transition." But no official word on why there is suddenly a transition, when just this past summer Bearden's contract was extended through 2014. Why did Bearden resign? Or face termination?

Not one official word on what will happen to the parallel processes of redistricting and budget-cutting committees.

Not one official word about who might lead the system beginning Jan. 1, when Bearden will officially be an ex-superintendent.

Not one official word of any substance. Nothing. Nada.

Just vaporous platitudes.

This displays a leadership vacuum of troubling proportions among the people to whom we taxpayers send more than $170 million of our money each year.

Platitudes are no substitute for truth. Taxpayers pay these folks; taxpayers deserve an accounting from these "leaders."

[Cal Beverly is editor and publisher of The Citizen.]


PTC Observer's picture

Expect nothing more than this.

It's the replacement we have to worry about given this BOE. This is going to get really, really scary. What qualified competent person will want to work for us now?

[quote=PTC Observer]Expect nothing more than this.

It's the replacement we have to worry about given this BOE. This is going to get really, really scary. What qualified competent person will want to work for us now?[/quote]

Probably someone who actually knows what he's talking about, unlike you and Mudcat who think there are teachers unions in Georgia.

Next you'll tell us the earth is 6000 years old.

mudcat's picture

True they don't have collective bargaining power as at least one hypersensitive teacher or teacher's spouse points out every time I mention the words "teachers unions" - but when they take a strong stance against charter schools, voucher systems and other things that simply make common sense for students and parents and puts the student's needs ahead of the teacher's needs, I say they are acting just as irresponsibly as the union thugs in Chicago who also can't strike, but did. $76,000 ain't enough.

Those organizations and their mindset qualifies them to be referred to as teachers unions and I will continue to do so. If it makes you feel better I may call them teachers unions without collective bargaining power and then you won't have to parrot the union line every time you post.

And don't think for a minute that the people at PAGE and GAE wouldn't try to lobby hard for a legislative change that would allow them to acquire more power through collective bargaining. I'll bet they spend more time talking about that stuff than what is good for the students.

Another reason for our teachers unions WCBP being mentioned is that when the next guy comes in (probably from a strong union state) his mandate will clearly be closing schools(I'm guessing at least 5) and reducing staff, including teachers and he will be pleasantly surprised that he can operate without the quicksand of a strong union slowing his progress and keeping the taxpayer's cost sky high.

G35 Dude's picture

GAE and Page are teachers unions in the same way that the AARP is a Seniors union.

mudcat's picture

Good analogy. PAGE influences teachers, sells them insurance and then uses the power of its membership numbers to try and influence policy in state and federal government. Well stated G35.

G35 Dude's picture

I agree the new G37 is awesome. Can I borrow some money?????? LOL

mudcat's picture

There is a position open at FCBOE in January, a superintendent's position that for some reason pays $150k. And you get that even after you quit. So, get hired, bank half your salary, quit and now you are ready for a G37. Quick, easy, simple. What color have you picked out?

G35 Dude's picture

If I get it I'll appoint you to a assistant superintendents spot. We'll work a year quit and get paid for 2. Does that work for you? LOL

mudcat's picture

This fiasco has never been about the students, not at all. Those students are simply pawns in the higher battle between the teacher's union and management/Bearden/School Board. Also building schools to satisfy the Smola/Smith faction on the school board. Thank God that crap is ending.

Students don't matter a whit to these people. The 3,000 teachers and administrators are into self-preservation and a bigger grab bag at the benefit desk. They are 3,000 strong. Can there possibly be that many? What they teach the students or even if the students show up is of no concern to the teacher's union leaders. Look at Chicago (50% fail rate). $76k already and teachers needing a 16% raise and no accountability, but full retirement benefits. Go figure.

Is that where we are headed?

And yes Cal, for sure there is a leadership vacuum, but not just school board and school admin, sad enough that. But county commission and Peachtree City city council as well. If things progress as I feel they might, we will have Pressburg in charge of our kids, Brown in charge of the county and Haddix in charge of the city. Have we screwed up or what? Oddly enough, I think Pressburg and his tin hat club might be the sanest of the 3.

Georgia is a right to work state. There is not a Teacher's Union.

PTC Observer's picture


And they have no political power at all.....right? Not in Fayette County, right?

Certainly you can't be serious?

G35 Dude's picture

[quote]And they have no political power at all.....right? Not in Fayette County, right?[/quote]

Right! The GAE has no authority to negotiate on behalf of the teachers or anyone else in Fayette County. As for political power, from what I've seen I'd say very little. They do have lobbyist but they focus on State issues. And Georgia is a right to work state remember? So again as for political power in Fayette County, you're right. No power.

PTC Observer's picture


G35 Dude's picture

None are so blind as he that will not see.

PTC Observer's picture

True, very true.

Usually it is the naive that are blind.

[quote=PTC Observer]But,

And they have no political power at all.....right? Not in Fayette County, right?

Certainly you can't be serious?[/quote]

Certainly you can't be that ignorant.

The teachers in Fayette County have ZERO political power. And you have ZERO understanding of the facts.

Go fishing. You'll be more useful.

PTC Observer's picture

I thought teachers voted in their own interest and formed groups like the GAE to serve those interests, but now that you have "enlightened" me.......well I am still LOL.

PTC Observer's picture

analysis in that last paragraph, the sad truth.

I go to most of the BOE meetings and I always leave them pretty disgusted. At one meeting when all members were asked if they could attend a special called meeting , they all checked their calendars and agreed to go, except for Ms. Key who said "I may go, I may not". She was chastised for that by a citizen, as she should have been. At the August meeting, Dr. Todd decided to throw in a fifth school closing option at the last minute that made no sense. When questioned, he kept changing his mind on which schools he wanted in this latest option. He sounded like he was just trying to jerk everyone's chain. This last Monday night, the Mayor of Brooks was up at the podium speaking about how he does not want them to close his school. Marion key was nodding off. Todd and Key have been in their position too long and are lackadaisical. Everyone who has never been to a BOE meeting, needs to go to one. It will be eye opening at the very least.


Veritas's picture

Missy you seem to be of the same cloth as most bloggers on here. Ill
Informed or suffering from short term memory loss or just simply making things up. Inman was brought up in MAY and Todd never waffled as to the reasoning behind it.
Mr. Presberg himself agreed to the idea and Dr. Bearden himself confirmed it was just suggestions. If you won't consider Brooks then Inman must be considered.

Try listening to the pod cast of the May 2nd meeting.... and become informed
Some interesting comments will come to light...

Presberg: Discussing feeder patterns to middle schools especially Bennett’s Mill: “It might be a reason to close Inman”

Todd: “And for the record, those were just suggestions.” Bearden: :Yes. They are just comments.”
If you really attend those meetings you must not be paying attention.

How much longer before SACS gets involved? We are facing the perfect storm. Dysfunctional school board. Financial mismanagement. Incompetent comptroller. A school built in the middle of a corn field sitting empty. No rainy day funds. Teachers being furloughed while the BOE pays national search firms, consultants, etc. for the new superintendent search.

That’s a real gem from the PR department. This release, in its failure to provide anything of substance, displays an incredible level of arrogance on the part of the Board and administration and shows the disdain the Board has for the people who elected them. Note that Bearden does not express any thanks to the Board members. It’s reassuring to know they are all "committed to a smooth and productive transition" now that they’ve thrown the system into turmoil. This board should not play ANY part in hiring a new superintendent. If these people are serious about "addressing the needs of the School System," the best thing Smola, Smith, Todd, and Key could do is resign. I’ll say one thing: This board is giving us all the best possible education in how NOT to run a school system.

I normally reserve such language online, but you and all the people talking about "teacher's unions"(sic) are ignorant. Georgia has never had a teachers union.

Please get off this message board. You clearly don't know what the heck you are talking about.

And to the other very ignorant person who posted a GAE link: That isn't a union. Furthermore, most teachers are members of PAGE, which also isn't a union. PAGE has no bargaining power whatsoever, and teacher strikes are illegal in Georgia.

Why don't those of you who listen to Neil Boortz (that's where you learned of the teachers unions in Georgia, because he's as ignorant about the issue as you) take some time to read, learn facts, and THEN come on here and post your opinions. Perhaps you won't be so ignorant then.

Have a good day, and for God's sake: Grow up and learn about something before you write about it.

rolling stone's picture

How about some civility on here. It is just a blog for goodness sake (that's the second time I have posted that recently).

SPQR's picture

Edmond Heatley will probably be looking for work.

Now is the time for this board to appoint someone not affiliated with the school system to be the Interim Superintendent: a person who has the business and financial abilities, not a career educator, to move the system toward the right size as far as personnel and facilities. Someone who can make the hard choices without wanting to please the board or keep his/her job. Someone who can tell parents this school system is for ALL of Fayette County citizens not just one or two sections of the county. After this person has literally cleaned up the clutter, then and only then, appoint a new superintendent. It has taken years for the FCBOE to get in this chaos. Delaying the correct solutions to these problems the past 21 months, has only gotten this school system further in the hole The FCBOE is so dysfunctional that any new permanent superintendent will not be able at this time to come into this school district and clean the clutter. There is not time to waste. This time the board must be sure to put the right person in the top position.

PTC Observer's picture

This is a really good idea, but it has one flaw, it requires a BOE with a spine. Unfortunately....well you get the idea.

The responsibility of a School Superintendent is to assure that the product (students) is the best that can be produced. One needs more than just a 'business background'. (The product is students - not cars) This 'new' superintendent should be allowed to bring in a team of professionals who have knowledge of running a moderate size school system. (Persons that he has confidence in). Fayette County has great teachers and administrators, I feel it is the responsibility of the citizens of this county to ELECT a BOE that will educate itself on School Finance , effective use of School Personnel, and Current Educational practices. Hiring 'citizens' who are politically astute (know how to get elected) has proven disastrous for the US Public school systems. Research has shown that a balanced (reps. from business, community, parents, teachers/educators) school board that has the ability to communicate with one another is a plus for a school system.

In my view, Bonnie Willis would be the ideal choice--if she is still willing to do Public Svc. Having volunteered once and having been rebuffed, I would understand if she didn't want to come within 2 miles of the current BOE. But no one will know until she's asked!

Dondol's picture

We need to go to the system that worked, we need to go back to electing the Superintendent and take this out of the hands of BOE. When we elected the super
he/she were answerable to the public, not so the way it is now. This was changed about 15 years ago and ever since school systems around the state have gone downhill. Put the power back in the public's hands, not a group of 5, all with special interest.

ginga1414's picture

I agree.

It is our (the taxpayers) school system. We are the ones who shell out the cash to keep it running.

The children in the schools are our (the taxpayers) children. We are the ones who support them.

However, we also need some provisions for getting rid of folks who make bonehead decisions like spending almost $3,000,000 (almost 3 million TAXPAYER dollars) on 130 acres of land when the school system only needed 30 acres for the Inman School.

It was the same theory with the Rivers School. "Build it, and they will come." It ain't happened, yet!

mudcat's picture

Voting for school superintendent like we do for sheriff gives us entrenched people like Trigg Darymple and Randall Johnson. Why? Simply because you have to be high up in the school system and actually live in the county to run for an elected school super job. So, if you live here, you probably work here, so then you are running against you boss. Win, fine, no problem. Lose? Uh oh, big career faux pa.

There's nothing wrong with the current system. What's wrong are some of the people in the system, building schools we don't need, irresponsibly using up most of the reserves and being afraid to close schools and reduce staff.

See, I did all that without once mentioning the teachers union, aren't you proud of me?

ginga1414's picture

You've made some excellent points!


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