GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Among the races on the primary ballot this month for all Clay County voters are three school board seats. Signs all over the county feature the names of those running:
District 1 incumbent Janice Kerekes is being challenged by Latanya Peterson.
District 3 incumbent Betsy Condon is facing Tina Bullock.
District 5 incumbent Ashley Gilhousen has two challengers, Lynne Chafee and Travis Christensen.
The winner of the primary vote in the two-candidate races will win the seat. If no candidate in District 5 receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two will face each other on the November ballot.
Kerekes has served two terms, including during contentious fights with former Superintendent Charlie Van Zant Jr. She said things are different under the new superintendent.
"I think things have improved drastically in the last two years since Addison Davis, our new superintendent, has come on board," Kerekes said. "I think from my side, my point of view, I’m there for public education. I’m there for children, support staff, our teachers, our district."
Her competitor said when she moved here three years ago, she saw the board in disarray, and says she hasn't seen any improvement.
"I was like, 'This can’t be serious,'" Peterson said. "And I was anticipating slowing down once we got a new superintendent, and teachers still aren’t getting their needs met, children aren’t getting their needs met. And as many are coming to Clay; people are leaving Clay."
Peterson believes the district has great teachers, but a failure of leadership.
In recent elections, a group named Clay Family Policy Forum has asked all school board and county commission candidates to answer questions, including on some hot-button political issues like gay marriage and the Second Amendment. The answers are handed out to thousands of churchgoing residents before elections.
This year, several school board candidates told News4Jax they wouldn't fill it out, saying those issues have nothing to do with serving on the school board.
Peterson filled out the questionnaire, saying it represents many Christian voters. Kerekes, along with Tina Bullock and Lynne Chafee, did not.
Kerekes said a lot of the political support behind the questionnaire comes from people who also support the St. Johns Classical Academy, a charter school that opened on Fleming Island last year.
The founding president of the school, Diane Hutchings, is a Clay County Commissioner and the mother of District 5 board member Gilhousen, who drew two challengers in her bid for re-election.
Kerekes believes that charter school is negatively affecting the Clay County public school budget.