Here’s why the Fayette County school board chairwoman resigned

Fayette County Public Schools Board Chairwoman Melissa Bacon on Wednesday resigned, effective immediately, to care for her aging mother, district officials said.

Bacon, described on the district website as a “full-time mom”, was appointed to the school board in 2006 to fill an unexpired term representing District 1 and elected to the board in four subsequent elections. She was made chairwoman by fellow board members in 2016 after then-chair John Price died and re-elected chairwoman in January 2017. Her term on the board ends in 2020.

“It is with mixed emotions after much prayer and discernment that I am resigning from my board position,” Bacon said in a statement. “My mother, whom we celebrated 90 years young last weekend, is in failing health and requires full-time care. I will not be able to adequately devote the time needed to continue my board work.”

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the school board will vote on a new slate of officers at its regular monthly meeting Aug. 27. Typically, the vice-chairman takes over the lead role on the board when the chair is temporarily not present. After Price’s death, the board elected Bacon, who was then vice-chairwoman, as the chairwoman.

The vice-chairman is currently Ray Daniels. Daniels owns area Waffle Houses. He has served on the Kentucky Community and Technical College System Foundation, which raises money and awareness for community and technical colleges.

Bacon’s tenure on the board spanned the administrations of three superintendents, district officials said, and she was a member of the team that hired Caulk three years ago.

“Melissa’s service on the board has truly been a gift for our community. She is a moral leader who puts children first in every decision and it has been an honor to work with her,” Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk said Wednesday. “We will miss her passion and spirit of servant leadership.”

According to a news release, student enrollment grew from roughly 35,000 to more than 42,000 during Bacon’s tenure. She was instrumental in working with Commerce Lexington and other community leaders to aggressively address school facility needs and reimagine high school education, according to the district.

Since Bacon joined the board in 2006, the district has opened nine new schools, renovated 22 schools and two support facilities, acquired property to become the permanent home for STEAM Academy and expanded its partnership with Bluegrass Community and Technical College to place STEAM students on a college campus.

She also played a significant role in Lexington’s designation as a Ford Next Generation Learning Community because of the partnership between Fayette schools, Commerce Lexington, the Business Education Network, the city and local higher education institutions.

The collaboration led to the launch of The Academies of Lexington to transform large high schools into career-themed academies, the news release said.

“Ever since I joined the board, I have been advocating for us to do high schools differently in order to engage all students,” Bacon said. “We are well on our way to expand our academies to all our high schools. I feel I have helped to connect people and promote our community involvement with our business partners, our faith based partners and parents. Our students need our entire community’s involvement to foster relationships for success.”

Bacon’s tenure on the board also included some controversy. The Kentucky Office of Education Accountability ruled in 2016 that she violated state law by trying to get coaches hired and fired, other staff members fired and involving herself in personnel matters at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. The state agency required Bacon, who investigators said acted outside her authority as a board member, to get additional training on the responsibilities of a school board member.

Bacon told the Herald-Leader at the time that she disagreed with many of the characterizations in the OEA report and that her actions were the result of constituent concerns.

After the report was issued, Caulk praised Bacon’s work on the school board as he did Wednesday.

“It was truly a step of faith and an honor for me to serve my community in my board role,” Bacon said Wednesday. “I completely support our board, superintendent and district in all the initiatives currently underway and will continue to be the biggest advocate and cheerleader for Fayette County Public Schools and public education.”

Under Kentucky law, Kentucky’s Interim Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis will have 90 days to appoint someone to the open seat on the five-member Fayette school board. The appointed school board member will serve for one year, and the position will be up for election in the fall of 2019. Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said Lewis is working with the state department staff to make an appointment to the board as soon as possible.