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Crawford: Bryant a good pick as interim school chief
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One of the rewards for serving in public office is that after an official retires, he or she will often be honored by having some highway or government building named after them.

Brad Bryant, who takes over as the next state school superintendent on July 1, won't have to wait for that honor.

When the school he attended as a DeKalb County youngster, Rehoboth Elementary, was converted to administrative uses several years ago, it was renamed the William Bradley Bryant Technology Center in recognition of Bryant's service on the DeKalb school board.

Whether he does a good job or a not-so-good job as the state's interim school chief, Bryant at least will have that building on the Lawrenceville Highway that bears his name.

Bryant was selected last week by Gov. Sonny Perdue to be the interim replacement for outgoing school superintendent Kathy Cox, who steps down June 30 to take a job with a private education organization in Washington.

It would be difficult to find someone, outside of a professional educator, who's had more experience with the operations and policies of Georgia's public schools.

Although he's a lawyer by profession, Bryant has spent a large part of his adult life dealing with education issues. He was a member of the DeKalb school board for 12 years, seven of them as chairman. Shortly after Perdue became governor in 2003, he appointed Bryant to the state Board of Education, where he has remained a member for the past seven years.

Bryant has been president of the Georgia School Boards Association and head of the National School Boards Association Southern Region. When school systems in Clayton and Warren counties had problems retaining their accreditation, Bryant was named a special liaison by Perdue to consult with system officials and try to get the accreditation restored.

For good measure, Bryant and his wife were co-presidents of the PTA at the elementary school their kids attended. Kay Bryant still works as a para-professional with the DeKalb school system.

"Those people who know Brad best know he believes in education," Perdue said in announcing Bryant's appointment. "He understands the fundamental blocking and tackling that must take place for learning to happen."

Bryant is well-regarded by his peers as someone who sincerely wants Georgia's public schools to succeed. During the six months he serves as interim superintendent, he could play a key role in trying to secure part of the $4 billion in federal education funds that will be awarded to selected states in the "Race to the Top" competition.

There's no question that Bryant was a logical choice to serve the remaining portion of Cox's term as superintendent.

Unfortunately, as one of the conditions for getting the governor's appointment, Bryant had to agree he would also try to run as an independent candidate in November for a full term as school superintendent.

That will be a tall mountain for him to climb. To even get on the November ballot, Bryant will have to collect petition signatures from 44,071 registered voters by the 12 noon deadline on July 13.

Bryant will actually have to gather between 50,000 to 60,000 petition signatures to give himself a cushion for the thousands of signatures that will be ruled invalid and disallowed. He has less than a month to get it done.
"It's a very narrow window," he conceded, when questioned about the task by reporters.

This is unfair both to Bryant and to Georgia's school children. Instead of concentrating on the responsibilities of a demanding job, most of Bryant's attention will be devoted to the Herculean task of gathering thousands of petition signatures.

If he is somehow able to qualify as an independent candidate, Bryant will then have to spend the next four months introducing himself to the state's voters and campaigning against the Democratic and Republican nominees who will be on the ballot.

You can't throw someone into a statewide political race at the last minute and also expect him to do an effective job of running an education department with a $5 billion budget.

Perdue made an excellent choice in appointing Bryant as interim superintendent, but he also put him in a very difficult position. Nobody is a winner here.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays.