Thursday, October 09, 2014

Reactions to audit take center stage at Fayette County school board candidates forum

Incumbents tout records as advocates

This from the Herald-Leader:
Candidates in the Nov. 4 election for Lexington school board squared off at a forum Wednesday, answering questions about a scathing state audit, redistricting, and the achievement gap.
In the 2nd District, incumbent Doug Barnett, a senior staff attorney in the Kentucky Court of Appeals, faces Roger Cleveland, an Eastern Kentucky University associate professor in the College of Education.

Top from left: Doug Barnett & Roger Cleveland, Dist 2
Bottom from left: Natasha Murray & Amanda Ferguson, Dist 4

In the 4th District, incumbent Amanda Ferguson, a former mediator and non-profit manager and current stay-at-home mom, is challenged by Natasha Murray, an education consultant who has worked with the Kentucky Department of Education.

The forum at Fayette County Public Schools Central Office was hosted by the League of Women Voters and the 16th District PTA. The format allowed 90-second opening and closing statements and about eight questions in each 30-minute forum. The questions focused on high-profile issues in the school district and the candidates' views on how they would proceed in the next four years. The audience of fewer than 20 people wrote questions on cards and gave them to moderators.

Barnett said he had advocated for the building of new schools and special programs. He said he preserved funding for band and music programs, pushed for the creation of a task force to improve special education, and fought a plan to outsource custodians.

"I have supported greater equity in our schools by encouraging the district to increase diversity of our staff," Barnett said.

Cleveland talked about his 20 years of experience in education. In addition to experience in both higher education and elementary, middle and high schools, he spent six years in the Kentucky Department of Education. Cleveland said he had served on two site-based councils at Fayette schools, served on the Fayette Equity Council, and volunteered in at least 20 schools in the district.
"I've always been committed to children and committed to education," he said.

Ferguson said she had served as the school board's legislative contact with the General Assembly and participated in a national health initiative. She said she had community support for asking challenging questions and standing up for what she believed.

Ferguson said if re-elected, she "would continue as a voice for those who felt they had not been heard."

Murray has worked for the Department of Education and had audited low-performing and high-performing schools. She said that her area of expertise was gaps in reading and math, and that her experience would bring a needed perspective to the board.

"In Fayette County, we need someone on the board that knows how to address issues specifically in low-performing school," Murray said.

All four candidates were asked about Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen's special examination that found chronic mismanagement of finances.

Both Murray and Ferguson said it was important that the district move forward after taking corrective action.

Ferguson said a lot of people in the community are not satisfied that full responsibility has been taken and that problems are going to be addressed.

"We need to guarantee the public that we are going to hold whoever was responsible for some of the chronic mismanagement accountable," Barnett said. "We need to guarantee to the public that this will never happen again."

Cleveland said the audit was "driven by personalities and had nothing to do with children."
"We're giving this too much play, and we are not talking about student achievement," he said.
He said the school board, as well as other staff and officials, should be held accountable for the problems in the district.

All of the candidates agreed that Fayette County needed to close the achievement gap for minority, disabled and poor children by having high expectations for all students.

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Anonymous said...

From watching the candidate forums, I would say Barnett and Ferguson won easily.

Barnett highlighted his accomplishments (stating that he approved Carter G. Woodson Academy seemed to rock Cleveland) and articulated his ideas on wellness, how to help William Wells Brown and his thoughts on the audit. He also stated that people must be held accountable for the audit. Cleveland seemed like he wanted to be anywhere but the forum. His answers were vague and horrible. Blowing off the audit like he did was stupid! Even the newspaper's editorial board thought the audit was necessary and recognized that Barnett and Ferguson were right on their complaints. To imply that the highlighted mismanagement had nothing to do with children was absurd. I was surprised that Barnett didn't smack Cleveland for his consulting business with FCPS. In fact, Barnett didn't attack him at all but chose to ignore him. Cleveland's attacks on Barnett seemed to be petty and vindictive. Maybe Barnett decided to run against Shelton and Jackson? Cleveland looked well outside of his comfort zone and simply failed to make any case to support replacing Barnett in my opinion.

I thought Murray came across well. While she wasn't the most gifted speaker up there, I think she means well. She seemed pleasant and sincere. At least she recognized that the audit was necessary and that problems exist (unlike Cleveland). I don't think Murray has any chance of beating Ferguson based upon Ferguson's record and history.

I also found Cleveland's refusal to answer your questions to be significant. What type of strategy is that?

suzannah williams said...

Dr. Day - isn't there any legal or printed ethical code prohibition against Cleveland serving as a board member while holding a consulting contract with FCPS?

Richard Day said...

Should he become a board member, yes, that would have to stop - but not until.