LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — On Monday evening, Fayette County Board of Education Chair Stephanie Spires read a statement in regards to a text message sent to people in the district asking for their support in an upcoming election.
You can read Spires statement below:
On Tuesday, October 8, 2019, I was contacted by the superintendent about a mass text message that went out to families from Fayette County Board of Education Member Will Nash. The text message read as follows:
“You can’t have a great community without great schools.
My name is Will Nash- candidate for Fayette County School Board. I’ve spent 13 years working in public education and am focused on increasing achievement for all students and providing more accountability for your tax dollars. Learn more about me and view a quick video at crd.st/WG64xz.
Election day is in 1 month. Can I count on your vote November 5th?
After meeting with the superintendent, I discovered that Mr. Nash had received “directory information” through an open records request that he should not have been given. The information should not have been given to Mr. Nash because as a member of the school board, Mr. Nash is required to submit all requests through the superintendent’s office for the superintendent to respond and/or to instruct staff to respond.
Mr. Nash’s request stated that he was making the request in his capacity as a citizen, but as school board members, we must recognize that we are never seen as typical citizens in this community. As a mother with children in various FCPS schools, I have to acknowledge that every time I walk into a school, I am not just a mother, but I am the Chair of the Fayette County Board of Education.
FCPS has a policy in place. The Board of Education has one employee, the Superintendent, and all of our requests need to go through him.
Mr. Nash sent that campaign text to a list of individuals that he compiled using various sources of publicly accessible data. The only information given from FCPS was “directory information.” It is possible that individuals received a text because Mr. Nash received their information from a different means outside of FCPS. This is why the number of texts sent was higher than the information provided from FCPS to Mr. Nash.
Directory information is public information, which is why the Kentucky School Boards Association, when consulted, directed FCPS General Counsel to provide the information. Families and individuals not wanting to have their child’s “directory information” shared must opt out through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The opt-out form may be found on the last page of the Fayette County Public Schools Student Code of Conduct, which each FCPS family receives and signs a confirmation that they have received at the beginning of the school year or upon enrolling in an FCPS school or program if during an academic year.
On Wednesday, October 9, 2019, I was notified that families received a mailer from Mr. Nash using the FCPS non-profit postal permit. Mr. Nash has stated both to me and publicly that he sent the mailer to families in his district using his own funds for printing and mailing. In a Herald-Leader article published online on October 10, 2019, Valarie Honeycutt Spears writes “He (Nash) said he consulted with the board’s attorney and followed his advice before sending the survey to constituents.”
As the Board Chair, I have been in contact with our board attorney and at this time, I would like to read an email from our attorney, Grant Chenoweth, to myself and Mr. Nash on September 24, 2019. Mr. Nash originally inquired about using district funds to communicate with constituents and I asked Bob Chenoweth of Chenoweth Law Group to look into the issue on September 11, 2019. Bob Chenoweth responded on September 16, 2019 that district funds could not be used for the purpose of communicating with constituents. Mr. Nash responded that he would use his own funds to communicate with constituents but inquired about using the FCPS postal “preferred” rate in an email to Chenoweth Law Group on September 19, 2019. The email from September 24, 2019 is the response from Chenoweth Law Group, written by Grant Chenoweth. As the client, we may publicly share this information with a board vote.
At this time, I am asking for a member of this board to make a motion to read the correspondence between Chenoweth Law Group, Board Chair Stephanie Spires, and Board Member Will Nash, dated September 24, 2019.
The motion passed 4-0 to release the email. Spires then read the email. Spires statement continues below:
On Sep 24, 2019, at 4:13 PM, Grant Chenoweth wrote:
The short answer to your inquiry appears to be found in Section 703.1.6.1 of the USPS Domestic Mail Manual. That section prohibits an organization which qualifies for a preferred rate from lending or delegating its preferred mail permit to anyone else. Thus, either your proposed mailing fits within the rules or it does not, and that determination is for the USPS to make, not the Board of Education. Improper use of a preferred mail permit could result in the organization's loss of the permit.
Fleshing out the answer given above, I must admit to having no experience researching, interpreting, or applying United States postal regulations. I also have no knowledge of the FCPS' qualification for and utilization of preferred postage rates. The section of the USPS Domestic Mail Manual relating to nonprofit mail is accessible at https://pe.usps.com/DMM300 [pe.usps.com]. Whether a particular item is eligible for the preferred rate is dependent entirely on application of Chapter 700 of that manual. Section 703.1.6.1 of that manual indicates that an authorized organization (the Board) cannot delegate or lend the use of its preferred mail permit to any other person or organization, as the mail pieces must contain the organization's "own matter." Section 703.1.5 requires that the name of the authorized organization appear on the outside of the mailer. As I understand your request, the contents of the intended mailer would be created solely by you, as a single elected official. However, the referenced postal rules would require the mailer to indicate that it is from the School District, as a nonprofit/governmental organization. This would appear to create a conflict, since you are apparently desiring that the contents be yours, rather than subject to the input of the other Board members. Compare, for example, subsection 6 of Section 703 of the Domestic Mail Manual. There you will find the rules for individual elected officials at the federal level who have "franking" privileges. There is no similar provision for state or local elected officials in a standalone provision, and there is no reference to individual state or local elected officials utilizing the preferred rate of an organization of which they serve as member.
It is recommended that you consult with the postmaster in Lexington regarding your proposed mailing to determine whether it qualifies for the School District's preferred rate under the specific circumstances of your intentions. It is also my understanding that a customer support ruling (CSR) can be obtained from the USPS upon presentation of a specific scenario such as the one you present.
On Thursday, October 10, 2019, I asked Mr. Nash if he contacted the postmaster. He was honest and replied that he did not, as he took the advice of the Direct Mailing Service that he hired to send the mailer when that entity told him he could use the FCPS rate.
To say that I am disappointed is an understatement.
As members of the Fayette County Board of Education, we are held to a higher standard. We all make mistakes, and I believe this incident was a series of mistakes. I think we all learned several lessons over the events of the past few weeks.
I have remained quiet on this issue for the past week as I have worked to investigate the community’s concerns. The actions of Mr. Nash and the subsequent investigations and media inquiries are a distraction and have taken valuable resources, such as staff time and dollars, away from our children. My hope is that by being transparent this evening, we can move forward as a community.
LEX 18 began investigating after several parents contacted us about Nash's message. You can read our story on it here.