Surprising news out of Fayette: School chief is out

Outgoing Fayette school chief Jeff Bearden in happier days in the county. (AJC file)
Outgoing Fayette school chief Jeff Bearden in happier days in the county. (AJC file)

Breaking news out of Fayette County where the Citizen reports that Superintendent Jeff Bearden is leaving his post in January with a year’s salary.

Bearden had run afoul of some board members with his proposal to trim costs and close schools. The school chief’s exit comes after the school board voted unanimously in June to extend his contract to June 30, 2015.

But relations between Bearden and some board members have frayed as the district, like others around the state, experienced fallen revenues and enrollments. As a result, Fayette was grappling with the always emotional issue of whether to close schools and which ones.

The friction over which schools to close spilled into the public arena when Bearden wrote a lengthy and detailed letter to the Fayette Citizen last month in which  he stood by his recommendations to close Hood Avenue Primary, Fayette Intermediate and Fayette Middle School. He also recommended utilizing Rivers Elementary as a K-5 school.

I hope the AJC can come back with more details on what led to this drastic action today. (I have sent a note to the board president, but doubt I will hear back tonight.) It is interesting that now both Clayton and Fayette will be in the market for new leaders.

According to the Citizen report:

The Fayette County Board of Education Wednesday afternoon entered into a “mutual termination agreement” with Superintendent Jeff Bearden that will take effect Jan. 1. There was no discussion on the matter after the school board returned from a three-hour executive session and voted 4-1 on the termination recommendation.

Once having returned from executive session, Chairman Leonard Presberg asked if there was any recommended action resulting from executive session. Bearden in presenting the recommendation said, “I recommend the board and superintendent enter into a mutual termination agreement to be effective Jan. 1, 2013, that will include an additional year of compensation and appropriate benefits. The written agreement will be prepared by the school district attorney.”

Asked by Presberg for a motion, board member Janet Smola moved that the board accept the superintendent’s recommendation, followed by board member Bob Todd who seconded the motion. The vote was 4-1, with Smola, Todd and board members Terri Smith and Marion Key voting in favor of the motion and Presberg opposed.

There was no discussion prior to the vote and nothing said after the vote. The meeting ended immediately thereafter.

The called meeting began at 3 p.m. with the school board going immediately into executive session. The board remained in executive session until 6 p.m. Present at the meeting but not in the school board chambers was school system attorney Phil Hartley.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

96 comments Add your comment


September 19th, 2012
9:44 pm

Nice severance package. Guess that money comes from a “different fund” than the one paying teachers.

say what?

September 19th, 2012
9:49 pm

Dr. Heatley is nearby and unemployed. HaHaHaHaHaaaaa.
People want the budget cut, staff cut, schools closed. But as soon as those cuts, terminations, and closures affect them directly, there is heck to pay. Make changes in other people’s neighborhoods, NOT MINE. So selfish parents exist in affluent areas as well as in places such as DeKalb and Clayton? Who knew.

A.B. Normal

September 19th, 2012
9:54 pm

It’s George Bush’s fault I tell ya!!

Good ole Boys at the Gold Dome

September 19th, 2012
9:56 pm

I live in Fayette county and pay high property tax which is almost all education/school system.The Board of Education has been a mess for the last 4 Years. They care about themselves and not the students or teachers.I think the Board Members should pay for his year salary out of their pocket.What a joke.Oh wait the joke is on us the tax payers!!!!!

Bright Idea

September 19th, 2012
10:03 pm

Bearden must be a heck of a nice guy, secure or eligible for retirement. He had them on the hook until 6/30/15 extended just 3 months ago according to the article.

Oh God, here we go,,,

September 19th, 2012
10:05 pm

Fayette county is in big trouble. Ptc people won’t be able to sell fast enough!

This is Mrs. Norman Maine

September 19th, 2012
10:15 pm

Salary $95000+. That’s a nice little windfall. He can take a 3-6 month vacation and still come out ahead if he gets another job with similar pay.

Oh God, here we go,,,

September 19th, 2012
10:23 pm

You are way short on that figure, way north of 100K


September 19th, 2012
10:24 pm

His salary is over $150,000 a year. He will also receive benefits. Taxpayers will have to pay almost $200,000 Story above is misleading. He has not cut enough.

His proposals have been too little, too late. He has no backbone and is a self-serving bureaucrat. He has slashed employee pay and cut benefits while protecting his buddies at the bloated county office. He should be gone – but he should not receive any pay. Unfortunately, the school board is an incompent as him.


September 19th, 2012
10:25 pm

Do you know him from Maine?

Hillbilly D

September 19th, 2012
11:02 pm

I don’t know a thing about the schools in Fayette County but I have noticed one thing that is universal when things like this happen; they always leave with a pocketful.

Fayette Taxpayer

September 19th, 2012
11:12 pm

This problem didn”t start with Bearden, it started with John DeCotis and the board spending money they did not have . The board thought there was a pipeline of money running into Fayette County to be used at their disposal. I wonder if they run their households in this same manner. Have you ever noticed the big yellow buses running around the county, I have never seen one full, they are all running at less than 50% capacity. Consolidate routes and sell whats left and save millions on fuel and maintenance, how stupid can our board members be.

Another Dekalb Teacher

September 19th, 2012
11:13 pm

Glad to know these same issues are not just in good, old Dekalb!


September 19th, 2012
11:15 pm

Must be all those bums from Clayton who moved over to Fayette and infected the FCSS. The plague of Clayton just keeps on going and going and going……


September 19th, 2012
11:17 pm

Another Dekalb Teacher:

If your schools could produce the SAT scores of Fayette then you could run your yapper…….

Fayette Taxpayer

September 19th, 2012
11:21 pm

If this trend keeps going you won”t have to worry about SAT scores, we won’t have teachers to educate the students.


September 19th, 2012
11:22 pm

This is a sad day in Fayette. Bearden is a great guy with a goal and foresight to make Fayette great. What a disappointment.

Fayette Teacher

September 19th, 2012
11:23 pm

In spite of the county office turmoil, the teachers of Fayette County will continue to do what they do best – lead the students to very impressive national test scores and keep up the high standards for the students and themselves. That’s a given. Some Fayette County citizens will cry about how all this affects their tax dollars, but they’re forgetful when these things happen that their kids are receiving a top notch education.


September 19th, 2012
11:36 pm

I teach in that school system. I noticed a long time ago that the county is very top-heavy. Not only are there several curriculum coordinators working nowhere near children day-to-day (they are in the central office), and many of them have assistants who run out to the schools to conduct meetings. They don’t work with kids very often either. These assistants are called Instructional Support Teachers, but they really work as assistants to central office staff instead of serving teachers and students.

Then, of course, we have at least two administrators per building, sometimes many more. They rarely work with children, but place increasing demands on teachers each year. These demands have very little to do with actual teaching, but are increased demands for reports, group meetings with other teachers, and meetings about how to teach better (but the teacher is thinking, “I need to get back to my classroom to plan and organize, call parents, help kids, etc.”).

Speaking of the teachers: They work with children, but not nearly as much as they would like to due to the constant meetings they are mandated to attend several days a week. This has a dramatic effect on how well they can plan, not to mention it becomes nearly impossible to give extra time to kids who need one-on-one tutoring during planning periods and after school. I’m not talking about tutoring for pay. I’m talking about good old-fashioned kid-stays-after-school to catch up. Remember that when you were a kid? Teachers are dedicated. They would love to help, but there are just too many meetings and not enough time to plan lessons, grade papers, and meet with parents. So the kids rarely get that extra help they need and the teachers struggle to find the time to just sit quietly in the classroom in order to plan quality lessons, grade papers, organize, and most importantly: help kids.

Put simply: There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. There are a dozen chefs arguing and pushing each other in the kitchen, while the customers go hungry.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: it is not unusual at all (on a daily basis) to pull four or five classroom teachers, the counselor, an administrator, and a couple other specialists out of their classrooms and offices for a meeting on one child. This meeting will go on for hours while the students are being babysat by paraprofessionals. There will be ten people in that room discussing how to help that child, and yet, that entire time those teachers should be teaching, not attending meetings. You can’t teach a child when your ass is force into a chair far from the kids.

And that is the measure of how many administrators and central office staff you need. If they are calling several meetings a week, then that means they have too much time on their hands and not enough work. So they call meetings, followed by more meetings, and reports, and committees, and the list goes on.

Here’s an idea: Let the teachers do their jobs. They plan lessons, teach, assess, reteach, and tutor (for free) those students who need the extra time.

I challenge you to find a teacher who goes an entire week without a meeting. You won’t find one (at least not in Fayette County). In fact, if you ask a teacher if she has a meeting each week she’ll say, “A meeting? I have several per week, and some that go for hours.”

That time could be used for something far more productive.

As far as the budget is concerned: The board and former superintendent could have planned ahead a few years ago. But they built a bunch of new schools that weren’t even needed and grossly overestimated how many people would be moving into the area. Fayette’s population is decreasing, and so is the student population.

I’ve been teaching for twenty years, and this is the worst I’ve seen in all those years in terms of demands on teachers from supervisors. The demands are so great that the students are getting far less than they deserve from us.

I have friends who send their kids to private schools in the area. The other day one of them mentioned one of their child’s teachers at a private school and I replied, “But I thought that guy was the principal.” She said, “Yes, he is. But he teaches two classes each day.”

I about choked when I heard that.

I’ve been teaching for two decades in three Georgia counties (a decade in Fayette). I’ve never, ever seen a principal teach a single lesson, but in at least one of the private schools the principal is teaching two classes a day.

It’s all wrong. Parents need to rise up and demand that the teachers be allowed to do their jobs. Parents need to ask, “how often is my child’s teacher pulled away from the classroom?”

Nobody in administration ever thought to ask us, “What can we do to better serve children.”

We wouldn’t say, “hire a consultant, conduct more meetings, write up some programs and make us read them, take us out of the classroom as often as possible.”


If you ask teachers they’ll say, “Leave me alone. I have work to do.”

Teacher in Fayette

September 20th, 2012
12:05 am

We are a very good school system with very good students. The majority of parents are involved in their child’s education. The county got to big for its britches and is paying for it. I have lived here since the 70’s. We need cool heads to prevail make cuts across the board.Parents can not whine about a school closing. Teachers have to suck it up(most of us are). I am here for the long haul. Let’s do this people! Board, ,listen to the teachers and our ideas on cutting the budget.

FC resident

September 20th, 2012
12:09 am

PK…check your facts. The county office is far from bloated. It is on record as one of the most efficient county offices in the state…when you look at staff cost per student. Instead of looking to blame the Superintendent, you may want to consider asking yourself why he would give up at least fours years of his salary to enter into a mutual termination. He may not be perfect, but even someone who is wouldn’t have been effective with the climate the current board brings to the county. Specifically, two of them are the root cause for that climate and their track record is an embarrassment. Personally, I don’t blame Dr. Bearden. So before you or anyone else assume anything, look at the facts as they are now and as they were five years ago.

tiger alum

September 20th, 2012
1:35 am

After 20yrs of SPLOST someone has the cahonies to offer an austerity plan! Though they are my former schools whats best for the system may be necessary. Please no one equate the name Clayton w, Fayette in regards to the school system.

Lifelong Southside tax payer

September 20th, 2012
3:29 am

Another example of why school boards should not be elected. It is just a popularity contest in the community and any un-educated nut job who wants a little power can get elected and be in control of the schools. Then, as in Clayton, they go off half witted and hire some controversial figure from out of state without first doing the proper due diligence. Then halfway through they oust him and pay the rest of his contract out. There should be strict qualifications for school board members. Then most of these screwballs that are currently serving in Dekalb, Clayton, Fayette, etc would be at home watching judge Judy and waiting for their welfare check instead of running the school system. Then maybe we could get a superintendent that has served in the local county for several decades and has a vested interest in the county succeeding instead of some flamboyant, arrogant, money grubbing, friend hiring loud mouth interested only in filling their pockets before they move on to their next position.

Lil Debbie

September 20th, 2012
4:47 am

Fayette County is not exempt from tough times. The teachers will rise to the challenge and continue to educate students to prepare them for success and graduation from college. Joshua 1:9!!!!

Harry Balzac

September 20th, 2012
4:59 am

The headline is misleading. I thought the story was about him being gay.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


September 20th, 2012
5:14 am

You see how I deflected responsibility away from Fayette and put it on Clayton? That’s how I keep myself in denial about our state of affairs in Fayette. Deflect, people…..DEFLECT!!!!!!!


September 20th, 2012
5:57 am

The kids in Fayette don’t receive any better or worse education than anywhere else. It’s the demographics in Fayette that make those test scores. My sons are in Henry and they all exceeded on the CRCT. My oldest son made above 900 on all his scores. They do well in school, do their homework, and ask questions when they don’t understand something. It’s what they were taught to do by me and it is the reason their test scores are so high. I believe any teacher can “produce” high test scores from students who are willing to work.


September 20th, 2012
6:16 am

VOUCHERS….it is our only hope.


September 20th, 2012
6:16 am

I live in Fayette County. Many outside (and inside) don’t know the real story about what Dr. Bearden has done. Quite a recipe. I think I will try it. Here it is.

Let’s see – over the next 18 months, I will make sure my performance is mediocre or poor. I will delay difficult decisions (like closing schools), but will make the easy ones (like drastically reducing employee pay and benefits). I will care nothing about morale of most of those I lead (after all, peons don’t matter). I will protect my fellow managers in return for their promises to praise my great skills.

I will spend much time promoting myself by telling everyone what a great administrator I am. I will speak at community meetings describing my many talents, but all the while avoid seeking input from employees. Then after nearly bankrupting my company, I will complain to my bosses. “Hey, you guys must not like me because you won’t do what I say you must do. Can you pay me for the next 15 months? I will spend 3 months continuing to destroy the company (while I portray myself aa a victim) and then I’ll take the next 12 months off.” Deal?

I just hope my bosses are as dumb as the 5 morons who sit in the chairs at the board of education in our county.. Hope my bosses don’t mind squandering the money that belongs to the stockholders in my company. After all, why should they be concerned about a mere $200,000 in salary/benefits? It worked for Bearden, hope I can get the same response.



September 20th, 2012
6:17 am

SEE speaks the truth.

Birds of a feather flock together.


September 20th, 2012
6:34 am

Funny and we all just received our tax bills!! Lovely. Because of the shenanigans, I opted to take my kids out of FayCo this year and home school. Sure it has its challenges, but I am a whole lot happier. It’s sad. We spent all this money on a search for the latest and greatest and all got hood winked. He entered with controversy and will now leave just the way he came in. Get it together school board before SACS comes this way and I can’t sell my house!!


September 20th, 2012
6:47 am

These counties all have a math problem. Yet whenever someone tries to fix the math problem, they are fought at every turn. Sad.


September 20th, 2012
6:58 am

Something must be going around.

Seriously, when will school boards get real about severance packages and salary/benefits for their superintendents?


September 20th, 2012
7:28 am

Okay, they sacked the Supt.. What is the boards plan to solve the problems facing the school system? Find a yes man or woman that will be their puppet. School board members (educrats) can be compared to the real estate/development crowd of the 90’s and 2000’s, there will always be buyers and perpetual growth, hence ever expanding tax funds and assets available. With one exception, the real estate bubble did bust and with it new home construction and the tax base related to the schools.

Obviously the Superintendent and the board couldn’t find common ground, so he is leaving.
So, what’s the boards plan to fix the problems facing the school system? Silence.

It probably cost the school system over $150k to buyout the contract of this person and what did that get them, the expense of hiring another person to do the same work that they were paying this man for….. nice. It’s easy to waste OTHER PEOPLES MONEY.

[...] drama afoot: Fayette County School Superintendent leaves post in January after the school board voted unanimously in June to extend his contract to June 30, [...]


September 20th, 2012
8:00 am

Students in Fayette do not get a better education. They come to school ready and willing to learn. They have parents that will work with them at home and expect only great things for their children. Fayette parents will not allow their students to disrupt the learning of others. Students in Clayton do not have the home support. Students arrive each year and daily not ready to learn. The behavior is off the chain and the parents blame the teacher and school for the child’s misbehavior and failing grades. Fayette parents teach their children respect while Clayton parents themselves show nrespect for anyone. Having frist hand experienced schools in both counties the students in Clayton are offered the higher education they just do not except it.


September 20th, 2012
8:03 am

The bottom line? Fayette is still 20 million short for next year. The school closings would have saved around 2.5 million, which is clearly short of the 20. The board fired him so they can elicit these funds from the personnel. That would be the only group they can bully without reprecussions. Parents were up in arms about the school closings, so the board decided to axe the engineer of the closings. Just push the deficit onto the teachers. Nothing they can do about it. All 2500 employees cannot leave at the same time can they?


September 20th, 2012
8:15 am

Maude, you NAILED it. The reason for Fayette County’s success isnt’ squarely because of great teachers or a great superintendent – but the biggest reason is because the kids there know how to respect adults, actually have parents that care and invest time into their kids, and send kids to school who are READY to learn. Without kids like that, teachers and administrators would be helpless to create a good product.

Clayton Mom

September 20th, 2012
8:21 am

Stop generalizing all the students in Clayton county as failures and not willing to learn. Both my kinds were educated in Clayton county and both are now in great colleges and continue to obtain good grades. My son is a senior in Chemical Engineering and my daughter is a Biology major sophmore. Yes, Clayton county schools has their issues, but as this article and others state, so does other counties. This may be difficult for most of you to comprehend, but not all students in Clayton county are failures, some families do support their kids in the learning process, attend PTA, meet regularly with the teachers, etc. Hate to bust your bubble, but my kids survived a Clayton county education!


September 20th, 2012
8:38 am

Millage rates are maxed out and they have an E-SPLOST. They need to take a field trip to Coweta County and ask them how they budget. It was reported last year they had a 0 millage rate for their M&O. They placed an extension of the E-SPLOST on the ballot for November stating that it will cover the same items. It is time to close schools and eliminate all the unecessary PROGRAMS!! Although it is nice to have these programs available, they are not required and need to go. The main office is full of excess while the teachers go without. Why do we have a Public Relations Specialist? Is the Superintendant and The Board too incompetant to do a press release ro speak directly to the public? They also want to allow out of county students to pay to attend our schools. If they are considering this an option, I would rather go to a statewide voucher system. Why should they have a choice to come here, yet we get stuck within our own boundaries. We need to wipe the slate clean and start over.

red herring

September 20th, 2012
8:59 am

Taxpayer loses again. 150 to 200k buyout of salary plus benefits after renewing his contract 3 months ago—the board should have to pay it as they obviously have no respect for the taxpayer funding they get. I think it would be a wonderful idea to have the state review each county’s expenditures in the central offices vs. in the classroom and make some changes –all the way from the boards of education on down. it’s past time to clean up some of this mess. change is needed.

Another Fayette Teacher

September 20th, 2012
9:00 am

Well look out County personel and employees. The Board will be coming after you next to pay the 20 million short fall. Looks like the PTC and Fayetteville parents won again. When will the Board stand up to the parents in this county and let them know who is running the schools? Looks like never. keep complaining parents, looks like you run the county because noone on the Board has abcakbone to tell you NO.

Maureen Downey

September 20th, 2012
9:03 am

@Pt Guy, I have to say after watching DeKalb move from a full-time communications person to contract folks, I think it is critical that a school system have a specialist as there are literally dozens of issues to deal with each day, from pesky reporters like me, to video shoots of school programs, community presentations, parent calls, production and editing of in-house information. The PR folks often have to be on hand when TV news wants to shoot, to ensure that the kids in the shots are cleared — by parent consent forms — to be there and to make sure that the taping doesn’t disrupt school. These PR folks get called for dozens of things each day. And some of the press calls for information and official response involve hours of research.


September 20th, 2012
9:08 am

This is a sad day for many parents and students in Fayette county. My husband and I move to the county over 5 years ago for our oldest daughter and now our yougest daughter is attending school as well. We have been very active in our daugther’s schools and have seen how the school board has declined since we moved here. The school board members are a joke! The one exception that I see is Leonard Presberg. Dr. Todd, Ms. Key and the rest don’t care about the students or the teachers, they are only concered with their own agenda, and for some crazy reason people are buying into what they are selling. People want to talk about the problems that Clayton county is having and throwing stones at them and whe have the same issues right here in Fayette. The school board members need to think about how their decisions or lack thereof and work together for the good of the students teachers and staff then one day in the near future they will get a visit from Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Ol' Timer

September 20th, 2012
9:11 am

“First, God made idiots, for practice. Then He made school boards.” ~ Mark Twain


September 20th, 2012
9:13 am

As a DeKalb resident, it is interesting reading this. While I applaud Fayette County for their successes with their school system, this demonstrates that all school districts are having difficulties with declining revenues and making the tough decisions. Closing schools is a tough and emotional decision. I predict DeKalb will revisit this again and it will be all over the media.

I’ve often commented that DeKalb has provided ‘cover’ to other school districts (rightly so in many cases) that are quietly addressing many of the same issues. No school district is immune the current economic condition we are in. Based on who one speaks to, some Board members are despised in their respective school districts, despite the fact they were elected by their constituents.

The issues that led to this separation will still remain so the question will be, how will Fayette County address these challenges?

Ol' Timer

September 20th, 2012
9:13 am

“First, God made idiots, for practice. Then He made school boards.” ~Mark Twain


September 20th, 2012
9:15 am

The parents do run the county (Another Fayette Teacher)!! I suppose you think the school system is in existense to provide you with a cushy job? It is not!! If you don’t like the way the system is run I feel fairly confident Clayton County could use your extensive qualities.


September 20th, 2012
9:21 am

@Maureen, I definitely agree with your comment at 9:03am. It’s important that those responsible for community outreach can be proactive instead of simply reactive. Things will happen that are beyond the control of any school district so it is imperative that school districts aggressively provide stories on the many positives that happen each day in our schools. Otherwise school districts will be defined by the media, based on the ‘hot’ stories that generate the greatest amount of interest.

In the case of DeKalb, SACS recommended a full time,on staff PR representative. Regretfully due to the budget situation, these positions were eliminated. This coincided when we saw a decline in information about successes going on in our school district. As a result, there was nothing to counter balance the ‘other’ stories going on. I see this as a critical role in metro area school districts.


September 20th, 2012
9:21 am

This is my last year having a child in Fayette County schools. Although I see things that could be better, for the most part, I am happy with the quality of the education.

I agree with an earlier comment. It’s the students that make the schools successful, not the administration and teachers. White, Middle class kids whose families value education. Put these same teachers in Fairburn or South Fulton schools and they would fail.