Eight people with varied education, business and community experiences have applied for the District 4 seat on the Fayette County Public Schools board, vacated when Amanda Ferguson resigned.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt must choose a replacement within 90 days of Ferguson’s Nov. 9 resignation. The appointment will be effective until the end of 2018, which would have been the end of Ferguson’s term. The next four-year term for that seat will be filled in the November 2018 general election.
Here is information about the candidates based on their applications to the Kentucky Department of Education. Some information also comes from interviews from the applicants who could be reached for comment.
▪ Susan S. DuArte, who retired in 2015 as a Fayette County Public Schools social worker, said she had served on the Kentucky Council for Higher Education and was principal assistant to the Commissioner of Social Services in what was then called the state Cabinet for Human Resources.
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▪ Dallam Harper, a retired community planner, is a former Urban County Planning Commission chairman. He served on a Fayette schools committee that recently updated the district’s four-year facilities plan. Harper said he once owned and operated Godfather’s Pizza in Kentucky and West Virginia.
▪ Christin W. Helmuth is a former language arts teacher at Bryan Station High School, the after-school volunteer literacy coordinator at William Wells Brown Elementary, a Bryan Station High School parent council member and the Bryan Station Middle School PTSA treasurer.
▪ Michael E. Kennedy, an engineer at Lexmark International, has judged elementary school science fairs and wants to help the district “build a new generation of productive, independent and globally aware citizens.”
▪ Natasha Murray is a senior associate for the Council on Postsecondary Education and a former education consultant for the Department of Education. She is also a former school council member. Murray unsuccessfully ran against Ferguson for the District 4 seat in 2014.
▪ Ismael A. Shalash is owner and president of Bluegrass Health Products, a Lexington product distribution company. Shalash also previously served on the board of the Lexington Universal Academy, a private school, for four years. He had an unsuccessful run for an Urban County Council at-large seat in 2010.
▪ Stephanie Aschmann Spires, the former director of a Lexington children’s shelter, is on the Lexington Public Library Board of Trustees, but said on her application that she would resign if being appointed to the school board presented a conflict. She is on Lexington’s Homeless Prevention and Intervention Board and is Playground Fundraising Chair for Ashland Elementary’s PTA.
▪ James W. Thomas, an instructor at the University of Kentucky, was also a former student affairs officer at UK. He is a PTA member at Tates Creek Elementary.
Applicants for the District 4 seat must meet a number of criteria, including being a resident of the district, which includes an area south of Main Street and east of South Broadway.
As part of Pruitt’s selection of school board member replacements, district officials advertise for candidates. Once the candidates are determined, the state Department of Education creates a panel to screen the candidates. The panel can include members of other local school boards or recently retired educators. That panel is chaired by a Kentucky Department of Education staff member or the commissioner’s designee for board appointments. The panel makes recommendations to Pruitt. The deadline for people to apply for the seat was Dec. 15.
John Thompson, the commissioner’s designee for board member appointments, wrote to Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk on Tuesday saying that he would chair the interview and screening committee and two other people from other districts would also conduct the interviews. The interviews will take place on Jan. 31 at Fayette County’s Central Office, said Thompson’s letter, which was provided by state education department officials.