Fayette school board chairman doesn't allow blood disorder to hinder his duties

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comFebruary 12, 2014 

John Price

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Working from his home office, Fayette County School Board chairman John Price watches school board meetings, asks questions of district officials and responds to constituents.

Price said with the board's approval, he is carrying out duties remotely because his doctors say he should stay away from public gatherings while he awaits a bone marrow transplant for a recently diagnosed blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome.

Without treatment, the blood disorder can progress into leukemia, Price said, so he is taking chemotherapy. "It's not leukemia now, and that's the reason we are being proactive," he said.

Price said aside from having to avoid public meetings, he feels fine, and he can work from home with no problem.

"I feel a great responsibility to do my job," he said. "I think sometimes the public feels that if you have an illness, you are not able to do your job or you are not capable. Right now I think I am able to do my job ... in a way that allows me to do what needs to be done."

Price said he understands his responsibility as a publicly elected official, so he discussed his medical problem with the board after he found out about it. When he told board members about his diagnosis in October, he said, "I think that I will recover from this. I'm committed to what we are doing. I want to continue to be part of the team."

The board has approved a medical leave for Price on an "as-needed basis." Price has not physically been at meetings since mid November. Vice-chairwoman Melissa Bacon has presided in his absence.

Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton said the board keeps Price updated "by providing videotapes of our meetings and correspondence of items and issues happening within the district."

The board's public planning meetings are recorded for Price, and he has access to all presentations and agenda materials. He watches televised board action meetings and often poses questions to district officials through Shelton. Price said he participates in closed board meetings via conference calls. He is emailing with constituents.

When constituents emailed him about a proposal for the board to use Feb. 17, Presidents Day, and March 21 as snow make-up days, Price said he relayed his thoughts to Shelton.

Price was appointed to the board in 2003 and was elected in 2004, 2008 and 2012. His current term ends in 2016.

Kentucky School Boards Association spokesman Brad Hughes said there have been other instances in Kentucky in which board members have continued to participate in board business even though they couldn't attend meetings while they recuperated from an injury or illness. As in Price's case, those medical absences have been excused by the school board.

Price's case doesn't present a problem under state law. It takes three consecutive unexcused absences to result in a school board member's removal.

Before his diagnosis, Price said, he had no symptoms that pointed to a medical problem.

"This all happened completely unexpectedly," Price said. "I had no symptoms. I went to the doctor for a routine checkup. They did some blood work."

His white count was low, so he went to see a hematologist.

Myelodysplastic Syndromes are a group of diverse bone marrow disorders in which the bone marrow doesn't produce enough healthy blood cells, according to the Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation Inc. website.

Price said a donor has been identified for his bone marrow transplant, and some dates are scheduled, "but there are a lot of variables in the process."

He said the bone marrow transplant could happen in March.

Price said because his late wife had breast cancer, he knew chemotherapy could be debilitating.

But he said he has had few side effects. "I've had chemo two days this week and basically I feel fine."

In addition to his duties with the school board, Price said he is continuing his work as a certified public accountant.

"All my clients and any school affiliated person that I've had any dealings with has been supportive," Price said. "Anybody who has found out about my situation has been very supportive, and I appreciate that very much."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears.

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