Clay Co. School Board puts issue to voters

Residents will decide how superintendent is chosen

By Kumasi Aaron - Reporter/The Morning Show anchor, Scott Johnson - Reporter

FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. - In just a few months Clay County residents will get to choose how their school district superintendent is put in office.

After a heated meeting, the Clay County School Board voted 3 to 2 on Thursday to allow residents to decide how to bring a new school superintendent into office. The issue will be put on the ballot in November.

That means during the next election, voters will decide whether the superintendent of Clay County schools will be an appointed position or an elected position.

The move comes just weeks before a primary for three school board seats.

The issue has been debated in Clay County for months and some school board members are not happy with the way elected Superintendent Charlie Van Zant is running the district. While he worries the school board is being too intrusive with the district's dealings.

"Our superintendents have been doing a magnificent job. We top in the state with all our schools why do we need to change it?" Clay County resident, Jim Trott said.

Trott said he doesn't see the point in fixing what isn't broken but Thursday, the Clay County School Board decided the way the district superintendent is chosen may need to be reevaluated.

"When 57,000 or 58,000 voters didn't get to vote on the superintendent two years ago because they were shut out by the write in candidate.... I think this time all voters will be able to vote on this. Every single voter in Clay County will be able to particpate," said Carol Studdard.

Board Chairwoman Carol Studdard said it has been since 1992 since the citizens have had the opportunity to voice their opinion on an appointed or elected superintendent.

Thursday night the board decided to put the question to voters.

"It was difficult because as you can see there's strong feelings on both sides of the issue," said Studdard.

So strong, School Board Studdard had to threaten to have sheriff's deputies remove people from the meeting.

"I've been on the board 22 years and I have never before seen a board member attack another board member. Its kind of embarrassing."

Hostility on both sides of the debate, with arguing between board members as well as between some board members and the superintendent, Charlie Van Zant, who some members are not pleased with.

We asked him about Thursday's vote.

"We all work at the consent of the governed. And anytime power is consolidated the people typically lose," said Van Zant.

The school board chairwoman told us she would love to see a well-qualified appointed superintendent, but doesn't want people to think that the five school board members would be totally alone in selecting the the person.

She said she would recommend a citizens committee to screen the applicants.

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