Clay County Commission votes not to rescind delay

School Board suing Commission over when superintendent referendum will go on ballot

By Scott Johnson - Reporter

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. - The battle over who runs Clay County schools continues.

The Clay County School Board voted Friday to sue the Board of County Commissioners. On Monday, the commissioners met and voted 3-2 to not rescind the decision that prompted the lawsuit.

It all started in July when the school board made a controversial vote to place the issue of how the superintendent is chosen on the November ballot, possibly changing it from an elected position to an appointed one.

Last week, the county commission voted to delay that referendum until 2016. That did not make members of the school board happy, and now the board plans to sue.

But Monday, the commissioners refused to rescind their original vote to delay the referendum, and now the issue will be settled in court.

"It's disappointing to me," said School Board Chairwoman Carol Studdard. "I wasn't really surprised. I didn't know if any of them would reconsider their actions of last week, but the sad thing is it's taxpayers' dollars that's going to be spent unnecessarily."

The problem for the county commission is its own lawyer told the board members to not go against the school board's wishes.

"There were a lot of questions regarding the ability of the board to have an up or down vote," County Commissioner Dianne Hutchings. "Seemingly if you're going to vote, you should be able to vote yes or no. And our counsel is telling us we can only vote yes. So the question is one that has to be settled by a judge."

The chairman of the commission, Wendell Davis, was the sole vote against doing this and was one of two votes Monday to rescind the original vote.

"Because our general counsel who we hire and pay as an expert strongly urged and requested us, and we put the referendum on the ballot irregardless of our feelings," Davis said.

Essentially, two government bodies are going to court because a majority of the School Board is not happy with the current superintendent, Charles Van Zant, and they want the ability to choose the next one.

Commissioner Ronnie Robinson led the charge to push the referendum back to 2016.

"There's people saying we've broken the law and refused to put it on the ballot," Robinson said. "I haven't refused to put anything on the ballot. We pushed it back to 2016, when there's (a) presidential election and more people, when all these questions can be answered by the proper authorities."

Robinson said this all stems from bitter feelings between three School Board members and Van Zant.

"I think the School Board has been in disarray ever since the election, since Mr. Van Zant was elected," Robinson said. "And this is about Clay County politics. You've got a group of people who don't like it because Mr. Wortham wasn't elected again."

Now with a School Board at war with its superintendent, at the same time suing the County Commission, it's left Clay County voters unsure what to think. And with some upcoming School Board elections just weeks away, there may be an answer at the ballot box.

"I think it's crazy because I think they're spending taxpayer dollars, because instead of worrying about the child, they're concerned about who's going to be the boss of who down there," resident Melodie Clark said.

"It doesn't need to become legal action," resident Allison Yoder said. "Why can't they work it out diplomatically?"

Van Zant has said that because of all the infighting, the school district could lose its accreditation, which could affect funding and the rating of Clay County schools.

However, AdvancED, the accreditation agency Clay County uses, contradicted that, saying, "We have not received any official complaints regarding the accreditation of the Clay County School District. The school system is scheduled for its accreditation review in March of 2015."

Dr. Michael Henry, director of instructional personnel for human resources, runs accreditation for AdvancED in Clay County. He has also said the district could lose accreditation because of fighting between the School Board and superintendent.

People speaking at Monday's meeting said the accreditation issue is not true and is a scare tactic.

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