Safety, sexuality & teacher shortages: Clay County voters to decide three races for school board

Three Clay County School Board races are on the ballot.

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – There are three races on the ballot to see who will make up the next Clay County School Board.

In District 1, it’s incumbent Janice Kerekes against Erin Skipper and Charles Kirk.

In District 4, it’s incumbent Tina Bullock versus Michele Hanson.

And in District 5, it’s incumbent Ashley Gilhousen versus Gerald Beasley.

News4JAX spoke with all three candidates in the District 1 race. The incumbent is Janice Kerekes who has served several terms on the board. Kerekes said the school board is as strong as it has been in years and said Clay County has made great strides in both school security and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m really proud of how well our school district is doing. Our school board works so well together. We collaborate. Very good line of communication with our superintendent,” said Kerekes.

She said the district has done things like reconfigure all the schools to have a single point of entry for security during her previous term. But one competitor thinks he could bring more to the district with his background. That’s Kirk who’s a former police officer.

“Obviously I’m most qualified of all the candidates simply because of my background. I’d like to believe that we are in good shape. I’d like to see more training. Not necessarily of officers but of teachers and administrators,” said Kirk.

Another issue that’s coming up is the curriculum and materials available to students. That issue is being brought up by candidate Erin Skipper. “I’m sick of the sexualizing of our children. It’s not appropriate. This is very much an issue in clay. Just from our books found in Clay also on our software that our kids had access to,” said Skipper.

Skipper said this stems from a recent meeting over materials available in district libraries. The district had a meeting on this last month and board members said certain materials were removed.

There’s also the race in District 4 which mostly represents the Keystone Heights area of the county. That seat is currently occupied by Tina Bullock. Bullock praised the current status of the district which recently received an “A” grade from the state. Bullock is running against retired school teacher Michele Hanson.

Hanson told News4JAX there’s a big issue in Clay with seasoned teachers leaving the profession. She cited multiple reasons like less help in the classroom and discipline that’s not enforced strongly enough making the job of a teacher extremely difficult. “Maybe 5 years ago there was a drastic change when people started trying to squeeze out more working hours for the dollar. So you have less aides, less people helping you in the classroom. Parents were no longer there making copies for you. There wasn’t PTO’s. there’s a major breakdown in American schools right now,” Hanson said.

Bullock said there are always struggles keeping teachers but said Clay has done a good job compared to other district retaining strong teachers.

“I think we’re on the upswing of all of that. Retention is very important and of course with the governor’s help we increased our starting salary to $47,500. And in Clay County we increased our experienced teachers,” Bullock said.

The third race is for District 5 which is currently held by incumbent Ashley Gilhousen. Gilhousen was first elected in 2014 and ran on eliminating the Common Core curriculum. She said that’s now happened due to work by Governor Ron DeSantis and she has a goal of making strides in a district without Common Core.

“When I ran in 2014, the first time the main concern I had as a candidate and a mom was the Common Core state standards. Since Governor DeSantis was elected he’s fulfilled promises to do away with Common Core standards,” said Gilhousen. “I finally have to be part of the changes that I’ve waited to see in our curriculum.”

Gilhousen is running against Gerald Beasley. News4JAX has reached out to Beasley and will update this article when he responds.

The primary election will be held on Aug. 23 and the general election is Nov. 8.

About the Author:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.