The state's appointment of a new, temporary member of the Bath County Board of Education last week apparently hasn't calmed the continuing argument between board factions.
The Kentucky Board of Education named Vearl Pennington to the Bath board on Oct. 5 to fill in for Bill Boyd, who is serving a 90-day suspension for various violations.
The next evening, Pennington joined members Sandy Crouch and Lisa McFarland in voting to reverse several previous board actions, outvoting chairman Hurschell Rawlings and B.A. Franklin.
Most notably, they voted 3-2 to recognize two earlier "rollover" contract extensions for superintendent Nancy Hutchinson and to resolve a lawsuit Hutchinson had filed against the board over those extensions.
Boyd, Rawlings and Franklin had formed the board majority before Boyd's recent suspension. But the power apparently has shifted to Crouch, McFarland and Pennington, at least for now.
Some county residents are predicting, however, that an effort to overturn the Oct. 6 actions is likely when Boyd returns to the board after his suspension ends in mid-December.
Meanwhile, board member Franklin said he questioned the validity of the Oct. 6 special meeting because of the way the agenda was prepared.
The session originally was called as a special session strictly to enact new school tax rates. But the day before the meeting — and within a few hours after Pennington was named to the board — several more items were added to the agenda, including motions to reverse some previous board actions. Franklin contends that's not proper under Kentucky's open meetings law.
The tense atmosphere is typical of disputes between Bath County School Board members during the past several years, with one faction backing Hutchinson and the other trying to oust her.
"It's making Bath County a laughingstock," said resident James P. "Sonny" Rawlings, who questions the validity of the board's actions on Oct. 6. Rawlings — who says he's "distantly" related to school board chairman Hurschel Rawlings — said he has written to state Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, about the latest developments.
"The thing that bothers me is that he had been on the board less than 48 hours but knew everything about the special called meeting," Rawlings said of Pennington. "The general public had little notice of an agenda that was attached to a tax meeting. I question the legality of the meeting and decisions made during a temporary board assignment."
Questions about the meeting apparently could hinge on just when items were added to the agenda. According to the Kentucky attorney general's office, the open meetings law allows the agenda for a special meeting to be changed as long as the changes are made and prominently posted at least 24 hours before the meeting.
Crouch, the Bath County board member, said there was no mystery related to how the extra agenda items were added the day before the Oct. 6 special meeting. Crouch said she and McFarland asked that the items be added after Pennington was named to the board because the Boyd-Franklin-Rawlings faction had been been refusing to include items the two women wanted.
"That was the only chance we had to bring anything up; we were never allowed to put anything on the agenda as long as Mr. Boyd or Mr. Rawlings was serving as chairman," Crouch said. "Now, they're trying to turn the tide and make it look like we've done something wrong."
Crouch said she was worried that the infighting would cause Bath County students and the school district to suffer. She said she was willing to seek common ground with the other faction, but the Kentucky Department of Education "needs to step in and do something."