If you have ever attended a training session led by John Fogle, you may have witnessed a simple-yet-effective demonstration. In one hand, he holds Kentucky’s annotated school law book from 1988. In the other hand, Fogle hoists the book’s latest edition. The former represents a summation of Kentucky education law from the year he passed the bar exam. The latter, pushing 1,500 pages, is roughly five times as thick. The point is made.
Just as much a history lesson on Kentucky public education law, it is a parable of John Fogle’s contributions as KSBA staff attorney, from which school districts have benefited for more than 15 years.
Fogle, considered by many to be one the Commonwealth’s most knowledgeable school law experts, recently announced he plans to retire following KSBA’s Annual Conference in May.
“John’s knowledge of Kentucky school law and regulation is second to none and I am grateful to have had his wise counsel,” said KSBA Executive Director Kerri Schelling. “His contributions to both the association and to the thousands of public school board teams KSBA served during his time are really incalculable.”
Steve Kirby, who served as KSBA’s director of Legal Services until 2009 and who hired Fogle in 2005, said that Fogle’s personal attributes as well as his professional prowess garner such admiration from colleagues.
John Fogle (left) with father, Jack Fogle, attorney at law, celebrating his passage of the bar exam in 1988.
“I thought he would be successful in the job and he obviously exceeded all expectations,” he said. “John was an excellent employee who grew to be a friend, both relied upon and trusted. I know he has helped a lot of people over the years and that he is genuinely a nice guy, the value of which should not be underestimated or undervalued.”From his office, stacked to the ceiling with law books and Manila folders, Fogle has served as a one-man brain trust for school boards and their members.
KSBA President Davonna Page, a Russellville Independent school board member, will not soon forget Fogle’s bedside manner.
“Whether he was presenting at a conference, addressing our board of directors, or taking part in a one-on-one conversation, John spoke of the law on our level,” she said. “He did so with warmth and humor and not an ounce of ego.”
That wisdom, combined with his trademark wit, has won him the respect of education stakeholders across the Commonwealth.Free Bird to Law Dog
Fogle attended Transylvania University in Lexington where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and pre-law, graduating cum laude. From there, he took the obvious next step.
“I decided to put my liberal arts degree to immediate use playing in a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band,” Fogle said. “I did that for a couple of years playing everywhere from Cincinnati to Fort Lauderdale. Sleeping on air mattresses and in fleabag motels got to be a little bit old so I jumped up a notch and started running sound in a honky tonk in Richmond, Ky., called the Maverick Club.”John Fogle (right) with attorney and former KSBA president F.C. “Tyke” Bryan, celebrating his passage of the bar exam in 1988.
During the stint, Fogle mixed sound for several renowned artists, including Jerry Lee Lewis. But eventually, the long hours and late nights drove Fogle to return to his scholarly ways, enrolling in law school at the University of Kentucky in 1985. His interest in school law, and his aptitude for its practice, were seemingly predestined.
“I was very privileged as a law student to gear my coursework toward subject areas that intersected with school law and even more privileged to later be mentored by my father and other eminent school law attorneys such as Bob Chenoweth,” Fogle said.
After passing the bar in 1988 – just two years prior to the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) – he practiced with Bryan, Fogle and Chenoweth and the Chenoweth Law Office for 17 years and built a reputation for himself among school board attorneys, boards and district personnel.
Despite his acclaim, Fogle has never sought the spotlight, only the opportunity to serve those in school leadership.
“I am wired to be a behind-the-scenes person,” he said. “When the KSBA staff attorney job opened up 15 years ago I jumped at the chance – thanks to Steve Kirby. From here I have been able to support community leaders willing to take on sometimes thankless – but ultimately rewarding – service as school board members.” The end of an (K)ERA
John Fogle said he is looking forward to spending more time with his family, including his wife, Lynn, and playing his many guitars (pictured below).
Fogle’s notable casework and research includes everything from school-based decision making council anti-nepotism provisions and board immunity to limitations on attorney fees under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The demand for education law expertise 30 years ago paled in comparison to today. For that, Fogle has KERA to thank.“There’s been pretty explosive growth back when I started in 1988 ,” he said. “There were few law firms around the state that practiced education law but the volume of statutory and regulatory coverage at the state and federal levels really took off after its passage.”
Significant changes in the law regarding personnel decisions, accountability measures and funding, among other things, demanded new legal considerations. Fogle, representing the interests of school districts, has always viewed the casework through the lens of boards’ avoidance of liability.
“Forever the doomsayer,” he joked. While developing an appreciation for policies designed to benefit all, his legal instincts always include healthy skepticism.
“The development of policy is a balancing act,” he said. “One needs to know the legal parameters within which to work, but I don’t think it’s always a healthy thing to have more and more detailed laws on the books.”
The more complex the laws, he said, the more opportunities for stumbling blocks on the part of the district. Fogle’s first loves: music and family
Since childhood, music has remained an integral part of Fogle’s life – playing, listening and experiencing. He played in bands for much of his teens and 20’s and moonlighted for more than a decade as a weekend radio DJ. Even now, Fogle graciously steps in with other musicians for local gigs. With a cherry sunburst 1975 Les Paul guitar regularly in-hand, Fogle plays by ear – a skill that he likens to the practice of law.
“Similar to playing riffs on guitar, practicing law requires you to use what you have learned to create,” he said. “In music and in law, you want to improvise and ultimately do something new. Every fact situation is different when you’re dealing with the law. There are times when you might get to make some new law and you just hope that it’s not bad.” Fogle credits mentors, colleagues, KSBA leadership and his counterparts across the state for his success.
“It would be impossible to thank all those who have lent a hand along the way, so I’ll just say thanks to all for a great ride,” he said.
Now, on the verge of retirement, Fogle looks forward to getting lost in the music more and spending quality time with loved ones.
“It sounds cliché, but I am looking forward to hanging out with my family,” he said. “I'll have more time to devote to caring for my mother, more time with my spouse, who has put up with me for going on 40 years, and more time with my kids.”
“And some loud music,” he added with a smile.