Two incumbent members of the Fayette County Board of Education have challengers in the Nov. 2 general election, and the board is assured of getting at least one new member after last week's resignation of its chairwoman.
The state education commissioner must appoint someone to fill the vacancy created last week when Becky Sagan resigned as a result of moving out of her district. That also means the board will get a new leader, as vice chairman John Price takes over for Sagan.
Add in the outcome of the non-partisan election, and the board could have a much different look when the new year begins.
The District 2 race matches incumbent Kirk Tinsley, 55, against two challengers: lawyer Douglas Barnett, 34, making his first run for the board, and Thomas H. Duncan Jr., 47, a retired state corrections officer who ran unsuccessfully in 2006. The district covers northern Fayette County east of Interstate 75.
In District 4, incumbent Amanda Ferguson, 44, faces Rick Queen, a 50-year-old Real tor in his first run for the board. The district encompasses the area immediately south of Main Street and east of South Broadway.
Kirk Tinsley was named to the school board in late 2008 to fill an unexpired term and hopes to win a full four-year term in November.
A potential issue could be Tinsley's late payments of his property taxes in several years since the late 1980s. The state sued Tinsley in Fayette Circuit Court over unpaid property taxes in 1995 — the suit was dismissed after the taxes were paid — and records at the Fayette circuit clerk's office show that he's been late paying taxes a number of times since then.
Property taxes are the backbone of public school funding, generating roughly 60 percent of the local revenue Fayette County Schools receives each year.
Tinsley acknowledged the late payments but stressed that the taxes ultimately were paid.
"I ask people to judge me on my present, not my past," he said. "I'm apologizing for things I've done in the past; it's the things that I do in the present that make a difference."
Tinsley said he was "disappointed" with recent test results showing 20 Fayette County schools, including all five high schools, missing federal goals. But he insists Fayette schools are on the right track.
"The things we've put in place are working," he said. "It's going to take time."
Tinsley is campaigning for parents and residents to help speed the process by getting involved, volunteering to tutor students, assisting with chores at schools and actively promoting education.
"People show up at football and basketball games, why not at the schools," he said. "Just come out, help kids, do the small things."
Thomas Duncan advocates stronger medicine. He suggested in an interview and in a recent candidates' forum that it might be time to replace personnel in lower-performing schools, specifically citing Bryan Station High School.
"You look at the principal at Bryan Station ... her product has not been great," Duncan said.
State regulations limit the ability of superintendents and school boards to replace principals and tenured teachers. But Duncan noted that former University of Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith averaged more than 26 wins per year only to be "sent packing because we didn't think he won enough."
"Wouldn't we do the same for our kids? We play harder ball with something as mundane as sports than we do with education," Duncan said.
Douglas Barnett said he's running because "schools on the north side of town need an advocate on the Fayette County school board. We don't have one now."
Barnett says he'd work to energize struggling schools, pledging to be an advocate for all students.
"It shouldn't matter where you live; it shouldn't matter what race you are or how much money you have," he said. "You're entitled to a great school."
Barnett said the school board should reach out by regularly meeting in local schools and seeking input from community groups.
"I don't see any inkling of that right now," he said.
He also wants the district to provide basic school supplies free to all students. The estimated $950,000 cost could be covered with some of the dollars the district now earmarks for consultants, Barnett contended.
In District 4, challenger Rick Queen said his priorities would be guaranteeing the highest level of education for all students, closing achievement gaps and ensuring that the district gets its share of every available dollar from government and other sources. Funds will be needed to improve already crowded schools, he said.
"We're at almost 2,300 students at Henry Clay High School, and I understand it was built for a capacity of 1,800 or 1,900 students," he said. "You can't just stick in 200 or 300 more kids and expect things to go smoothly."
Queen said schools gain from community involvement, promising that he would work tirelessly to foster more of it.
"You have to be out there in the trenches, attending ball games and site-based council meetings, listening to what's going on," he said.
Incumbent Amanda Ferguson said she's seeking re-election to continue working on student achievement gaps and graduation rates. Four years of board experience give her an advantage, she said.
"We've started making improvements and haven't finished yet, particularly at the middle school and high school levels," Ferguson said. "We have asked the superintendent to focus on that on this coming year."
Because of growing enrollment, the district also might need to start planning now for a new high school, she said.
"It's not on the facilities plan right now, and the process takes a long time," she said. "I definitely think it's something we need to take a look at."
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.