LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - The Kentucky Board of Education has narrowed its search for the next state education commissioner to two candidates, but the board won’t say which of the five publicly identified finalists are still in the hunt for the job. 

The board will spend between $10,000 to $12,000 to conduct "extensive background searches" on the two final candidates to prevent any information that may be "embarrassing or disparaging to the state" from being released, said Roger Marcum, chairman of the state board.

"We don’t want, once we’ve announced who our next commissioner is, to find out something we don’t know on whoever that person is," Marcum told WDRB News on Monday. "Either one of the finalists may be selected as our commissioner, and we want to know everything there is to know about them."

The Kentucky Board of Education released the names of the five candidates on Thursday, and the board interviewed all five over the weekend before announcing that two finalists remain.

The five are: Kathleen Airhart, deputy commissioner, chief operating officer for the Tennessee Department of Education; Buddy Berry, superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools in Eminence, Ky.; Christopher Koch, interim president of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) in Washington, D.C.; Lloyd Martin, chief executive officer for Universal School Solutions, LLC, in Jacksonville, Fla.; and Stephen Pruitt, senior vice president at Achieve, Inc., an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization in Washington, D.C. 

Marcum said the background checks are to avoid repeating the controversy involving Barbara Erwin, the woman who was named education commissioner in 2007, only to resign from the job before her first day after media outlets across the state questioned the integrity of her resume, as well as other concerns.

"We don’t want what happened with Dr. Erwin to happen again," said Marcum, who noted that none of the current board members were on the board that appointed Erwin commissioner. "We are taking this responsibility to properly vet the candidates very seriously."

Terry Holliday was named education commissioner in 2009 and has been in charge of overseeing the education of 675,000 students in Kentucky's public schools. His last official day on the job is Monday, Aug. 31.

The state board has appointed Associate Commissioner and General Counsel Kevin Brown to serve as interim commissioner starting Tuesday, Sept. 1, until a new commissioner is installed.

Marcum told WDRB News the state has no objection if the five named candidates "self-disclose" whether they’ve made it to final vetting.

However, two of the candidates told WDRB News Monday they were asked not to disclose any information about the search process or what qualities they would bring to the job if selected.

A third candidate -- Berry, the superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools -- said in an email Monday that he’ll “leave it up to the board” to say which candidates remain in the running.

“This is their search and their process, and I’ll let the announcement of which of us five are finalists come from them,” Berry said.

Marcum said he will call a special meeting of the state board once the background checks are complete in two or three weeks.

"I do feel that we are being transparent with this process," Marcum said.

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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