Fayette County school board member Amanda Ferguson resigned Wednesday, effective immediately.
In a letter to Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, Ferguson said she was resigning “as a result of personal life changes and a desire to commit my time and energies fully to a career in real estate.”
But on Wednesday, the Herald-Leader obtained through an open-records request a Nov. 1 investigative report from the Office of Education Accountability regarding Ferguson. That agency found that Ferguson “has acted outside the scope of her authority as a member of the Fayette County Board of Education” by challenging the work performance of employees in the district. The ruling said she violated school law by “badgering” former superintendent Tom Shelton to replace employees, including the Morton Middle School principal. The OEA report said it would require Ferguson to complete three hours of training on the roles and responsibilities of a board member by Dec. 15.
Fayette board chairwoman Melissa Bacon was required to take similar training after a September OEA ruling that she violated state law by trying to get district staff hired and fired and otherwise involving herself in personnel matters at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Bacon, who was re-elected to a four-year term Tuesday, said she was trying to reflect her constituents’ concerns and that she would never intentionally overstep her bounds.
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Ferguson said she didn’t resign because of the OEA report: “It is a disappointment but nothing compared to the criticism I have received over the years from others,” including the Herald-Leader, Ferguson said. “I feel 10 years is long enough to be both a lightning rod and a punching bag. The timing of my departure is solely a reflection of yesterday’s election. I would have resigned earlier if Daryl (Love) and Melissa had not both had opponents in their races. I did not want to leave the board with only one member with substantial experience.”
In a written response to the Herald-Leader on Wednesday about the report, Ferguson said “I believe the majority of the report’s content stems from the sour-grapes attitude of certain individuals, and I continue to dispute and reject the bulk of its findings. With that said, I regret that any of my actions would ever cause the district to lose focus on what is most important in the Fayette County Public Schools — our students.”
In Ferguson’s response to the Office of Education Accountability, she said she thought her actions regarding Morton should be considered “constituent services by an elected official,” the report said. “She also stated that if as a passionate parent she went too far in her efforts at Morton Middle School, she apologizes.”
The report said that in 2013, she complained to Shelton about the continued employment of an employee whom the report didn’t identify. Ferguson said she felt justified in her actions because of the number of complaints she had received.
The report said that in October 2014, Ferguson wrote to Shelton, “Pitiful. You are just pitiful. The only way for this district to move forward is for you and your cronies to move on.”
Ferguson told investigators that “this was at the point of the absolute breakdown in her relationship with Shelton, which she believed she had the right to express.”
The report cited other allegations of Ferguson interfering in personnel decisions. Ferguson denied interfering and said she had contacted the Kentucky School Boards Association and was told she could ask about job performance.
The report said Ferguson denied accusing staff of shredding documents when the district was under review by the state auditor’s office, but she admitted that she went to finance staff offices to see whether they were shredding documents. The report said Ferguson stated that staff members told her about the shredding of documents.
Ferguson, a real estate agent, was elected to the board in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010 and 2014. She was elected vice-chairwoman in 2016. Her current term would have expired in 2018.
“With yesterday’s election results assuring continuity and experience on the board, and an outstanding individual leading the district in Superintendent Manny Caulk,” Ferguson said in her letter Wednesday to Pruitt, “I feel the future is nothing but bright for the students and families of the Fayette County Public Schools. I know there are many qualified people within the Fourth District willing to serve, and I trust you will appoint the best person possible to carry on this most important work.”
Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said that after the school district advertises the open board position, the department coordinates interviews before the commissioner names the replacement.