Barring a possible state appointment to fill an empty seat, the results of Tuesday's general election could leave the Fayette County Board of Education without a black representative for the first time in 15 years.
Incumbent Kirk Tinsley, the board's only black member, ran third in the District 2 board race Tuesday and will be replaced by the election winner, newcomer Douglas Barnett, who is white.
As things stand now, Tinsley's departure at the end of the year would leave the school board without a black member for the first time since 1995, when Jerry Devine joined the board after defeating longtime incumbent Barth Pemberton.
That's an alarming possibility for black leaders in Lexington, who contend that African-American representation is essential as Fayette County Public Schools move ahead with efforts to raise student test scores and close achievement gaps.
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"It concerns all of us who have been involved in working with the school system to close achievement gaps," P.G. Peeples, president and CEO of the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County, said Wednesday. "It would be catastrophic and a major step backward if we found ourselves with no representation on the board."
Minority leaders are pinning their hopes on state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday appointing a black person to replace former chairwoman Becky Sagan. She resigned in late September after deciding to move out of District 5, which she had represented.
Timing, however, will be crucial in trying to make that happen.
Anyone wishing to be considered for the District 5 appointment must file an application with the state Department of Education that must be postmarked by Friday.
Black leaders said Wednesday they're trying to line up someone to apply.
"We are working on that as we speak," Peeples said. "Hopefully, we will find someone who will put their name in and that can be brought forth for the commissioner to consider."
Only two people have picked up application forms, according to school officials. The education commissioner has 90 days from the day Sagan resigned to find a replacement.
Education Department spokeswoman Lisa Gross said Wednesday there is no requirement for the education commissioner to consider racial balance in filling board vacancies. State law provides only that an applicant must be 24 years old, have a high school education and meet other general requirements.
Black leaders have been successful in getting blacks appointed to school board vacancies in the past, Peeples said. He noted that after Devine left the Fayette board several years ago, black leaders recruited Larry Conner to submit his name as a replacement. Conner was appointed and served until leaving Lexington in 2008. Tinsley then was named to replace him.
The Rev. C.B. Akins of Lexington, a member of the Kentucky State Board of Education, argues that having a black representative on the Fayette board would benefit the entire community.
"Regardless of how good a heart a person has, that person can see situations only based on the lenses through which they view them," Akins said. "Our lenses are ground in our culture. The way someone sees things is not wrong, it's just that their vision may be limited based on their lenses.
"To have a diverse outcome, we must have diversity in planning. That's of grave concern to me and should be to all of Lexington, not just the minority community."
District 5 lies along either side of Nicholasville Road south of Cooper Drive and Waller Avenue and is bordered in part by Tates Creek and Harrodsburg roads.