As voters on Nov. 4 elect two board members for the Fayette County Public Schools, the district faces a momentous challenge: Put petty adult conflicts to rest and zero in on educating Lexington's young people.
Challengers Natasha Murray and Roger Cleveland are especially well suited to this challenge — by experience, skills and temperament.
Murray's job as a research analyst with the Kentucky Department of Education keeps her in touch with innovative schools that are successfully teaching all kids, in Kentucky and worldwide. She is especially focused on how to boost students' mastery of math and reading and is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Kentucky.
Cleveland is launching a new Center for Education Equity and Excellence at Eastern Kentucky University where he is an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies. Gov. Steve Beshear recently re-appointed him to the state's School Curriculum Assessment and Accountability Committee. He earned a doctorate of education from the University of Cincinnati in 1998 and is in demand as a consultant and speaker.
Cleveland is passionate about narrowing the achievement gap for low-income, minority and disabled students by enacting proven policies and strategies — an elusive goal that is nonetheless critical to Lexington's future.
We appreciate the long hours devoted by incumbents Doug Barnett and Amanda Main Ferguson and their willingness to challenge the superintendent on this year's budget cuts.
Ferguson and Barnett were right that the board was not getting a clear picture of the district's finances.
But, as the state auditor's investigation revealed, "chronic mismanagement" of budgeting and financial reporting had long denied the board — and public — a clear picture.
In eight years on the board, Ferguson told us, she never asked for more detail or clarity in the budget or financial reporting. Instead, she said, she entrusted budget and finances to the superintendent, which, as the state auditor said, is a failure of a school board member's duty to provide financial oversight.
Ferguson touts the working knowledge she's gained in two terms. She also has served as a sounding board for complaints from district employees and others.
But, in her meeting with the editorial board, Ferguson offered no plan of action for responding to the audit's recommendations or ideas for improving the schools going forward.
After the audit was released, Barnett showed poor judgment by publicly praising the head of the office that presumably was responsible for frequent unauthorized budget manipulations that the audit criticized.
(While revealing many questionable practices, the audit left unexamined some specifics that still must be investigated and resolved — another challenge.)
Barnett and Cleveland are running in Division 2; Ferguson and Murray in Division 4. The other three board members — Melissa Bacon, Daryl Love and John Price — are up for re-election in 2016.
The board must hold Superintendent Tom Shelton accountable for improving the "toxic" work relationships that the audit said sabotaged fiscal management. The board also could be hiring a new superintendent when Shelton's contract ends next year, depending on what he or the board decide.
Voters can put those responsibilities into more capable hands by electing Cleveland and Murray.
Both have made inquiries to ensure their professional and civic commitments would not create conflicts with board duties.
Both are parents of current or recent FCPS students. They have lent their time and expertise to after-school and weekend programs that tutor and mentor at-risk and minority students.
Lexington is fortunate to have impressive challengers whose qualifications match the district's needs. Voters should take them up on their offers to serve.
The unendorsed candidates may submit 250-word responses by noon Wednesday.