Setting boundaries for Fayette schools will draw lots of interest, present challenges, observers say

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comApril 27, 2014 

Some members of the proposed redistricting committee includes (top left, clockwise): Austin Simms, Daryl Love, Lester Diaz, Steven Riley, Amanda Ferguson and Alan Stein.

  • Proposed members of redistricting committee

    Vince Mattox, district chief officer of school community and government support

    Amanda Ferguson, school board member

    Daryl Love, school board member

    Roy Woods, Equity Council

    Mike Cravens, Lexington Homebuilders Association

    Ty Brown, Lexington Board of Realtors

    Rick Queen, Lexington Board of Realtors

    Malcolm Ratchford. Community Action Council

    Bill Farmer, United Way

    Austin Simms, Lexington Housing Authority

    Jim Duncan, Urban County Planning

    Alan Stein, Commerce Lexington

    Kathy Smiley, 16th District parent-teacher association

    Sandra Duvall, parent for Edythe J. Hayes Middle School

    Julie Wallace, parent for Athens-Chilesburg Elementary

    Erin Manna, teacher, Crawford Middle

    Jill Hill, teacher, Squires Elementary

    Steven Riley, teacher, Henry Clay High

    Brison Harvey, teacher, Lafayette High

    Doug Botkin, district maintenance employee

    Jim Adams, staff, Paul Laurence Dunbar High

    Lester Diaz, principal, Bryan Station Middle

    Leigh Ann McLaughlin, principal, Southern Elementary

    Marty Mills, associate principal, Tates Creek High

    Betsy Rains, principal, Paul Laurence Dunbar High

    SOURCE: Fayette County Public Schools

Bill Powell said he was so put off by the new boundaries for Fayette County Public Schools in 2004 that he sent his sons to a private school.

Powell, a resident of Charleston Gardens subdivision off Tates Creek Road, was bothered by the lack of transparency in the process. He wondered how the district decided to reassign neighborhood children who were attending nearby Veterans Park Elementary and then bring in children from neighborhoods that weren't as close to the school.

Nearly a decade later, the district is again in the process of redistricting.

Powell and others say they hope the latest redistricting efforts will be less divisive.

"That experience in redistricting caused me to question whether I wanted my children in the Fayette County Public Schools," Powell said. "Let it all be upfront and open. I want transparency in the process."

That probably will happen this time. District officials said they are reaching out to residents for input. All redistricting committee meetings will be open to the public, and additional public forums will be held.

A redistricting committee will help redraw Fayette school attendance zones. The school board is scheduled to approve the approximately 25 committee members — who include school board members, business leaders, Equity Council members, parents, Realtors, home builders, principals and city planning officials — at a meeting Monday night.

The committee is scheduled to meet for the first time at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Buckner Room of the Lexington Herald-Leader, 100 Midland Avenue.

The district's website has a new page,, where school leaders are posting information about redistricting. Officials are asking the public to weigh in using "Let's Talk," an online tool on the homepage of the district's website,

"We know there is a high degree of community interest in this process, and that is exactly why we are starting with broad community involvement," said Vince Mattox, district chief officer of school community and government support.

Mattox, who is Superintendent Tom Shelton's proposed designee on the committee, said the goal was to engage the public as the district followed some guiding principles and developed new school boundaries "that are good for all students."

Achieving economic diversity is a key goal in establishing the new boundaries, but the district also would like all students to attend a neighborhood or nearby school.

Shelton has said school officials want the redistricting plan "to fit the community's needs."

The proposed committee members represent a cross-section of the community and groups that previously have had a say in making decisions about school facilities, Shelton said.

While some redistricting occurred in 2004, the new effort marks the district's first wide-scale change since 2002, according to spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall. The newest redistricting effort is needed because Fayette County is building two more elementary schools, set to open in fall 2016, and another high school, set to open in 2017.

The redistricting meetings are expected to continue through at least December, and recommendations should go to the Fayette County Board of Education for approval in early 2015.

Fayette Equity Council chair Roy Woods, a member of a redistricting committee about 10 years ago, is a proposed member of the new committee. In the past in Fayette County, he said, a key problem was that children who lived in the same public housing project might have gone to several different schools, some of which were across town.

Parents also had very defined ideas about which schools were "good" or "bad," he said. That's not so much the case now, Woods said.

Schools that were struggling have improved, and district officials understand that resources have to be distributed equally to schools across Fayette County, he said.

However, Woods said, Fayette County has an achievement gap between children of color and whites, which is a sign that all children are not getting the same high-quality education.

"I believe we have another opportunity to close that particular gap so that all children will be able to receive an equitable distribution of resources," Woods said.

Several proposed members of the redistricting committee told the Herald-Leader they wanted to work for all Fayette County students.

Lexington businessman Alan Stein represents Commerce Lexington, the city's Chamber of Commerce organization. He said in an interview this month that as a native Lexington resident, he had seen previous redistricting efforts be "potentially harmful to relations in our community."

"I'm going to be one of those people that's going to listen and learn and do what's right for the kids, and try to be immune from some of the outside pressures and voices," Stein said.

Malcolm Ratchford, director of Community Action Council, said he was going to be pushing for an "equitable formula for all schools." Ratchford said he didn't want any socioeconomic group to be penalized in the redistricting process.

"We don't want to be divisive when we come up with strategies," he said.

Ratchford acknowledged, however, that "it's going to be very difficult to make everybody happy."

He said people want their children to attend the schools they live closest to, but in achieving economic diversity, there will have to be changes to make sure Fayette County doesn't have rich and poor schools.

Proposed redistricting committee member Bill Farmer, president of United Way of the Bluegrass, said that the United Way takes a proactive approach to improving the quality of life for all Central Kentuckians and that he would bring that perspective.

"The decisions that we make are going to have a profound effect on children in the future," said Farmer. "If we don't make the right decisions, it really does have an impact in their lives. ... Every child should have the opportunity to be academically successful and academically challenged. It shouldn't matter where you live."

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

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