Clay County School Board sues county commission over referendum

Board wants voters to decide in November how superintendent will be chosen

By Scott Johnson - Reporter

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. - The Clay County School Board voted 3-2 late Friday afternoon to sue the Clay County Commission over the commission's decision to delay a referendum until 2016.

The school board wants voters to decide if the Clay County superintendent should be appointed or elected, and they wanted it on the November ballot.

Earlier this week, the commission voted to delay the referendum two years.

The school board held an emergency meeting to approve the lawsuit because the deadline to get the measure on the General Election ballot is Aug. 30.

"We don't want to sue the commission, but our hand's been forced," Clay County School Board Chairwoman Carol Studdard said. "They acted in violation of Florida statute, according to our legal advice."

Since 1992, the county's superintendent has been elected, and people in the community have had no say on whether the position should be appointed or elected.

Current Superintendent Charles Van Zant was elected a few years ago and has been mired in controversy ever since. Some voters want the school board to stand up to the commission, while others say back off.

"What I find frustrating is the conflict between the school board and the superintendent," said Clay County resident Alan Dimaio-Leach. "I think that's bad. I think it's a serious problem. And I believe the superintendent should be an employee of the school board and not elected."

During Friday's emergency meeting, the school board received an earful from unhappy Clay County residents who are divided over the leadership of the county's school district.

"Your judgment is so clouded because of your hatred for the superintendent that you actually think you're doing a service, when in fact you are doing the opposite," one person said.

Even teachers are fed up with the drama that seems to be regular at every school board meeting.

"I would actually consider leaving the teaching profession," said fourth-grade teacher Ginger Leinecker.

She teaches in Fleming Island and said many teachers are not happy with the district's leadership, and she doesn't think suing the county commission will help.

"I have talked to some and a lot think it's ridiculous, a waste of time," Leinecker said. "We're sitting fighting for the children everyday in the classroom, and instead of spending (money) on more supplies, we're going to spend it on lawsuits."

A big issue for many in Friday's meeting was how much it will cost the district to sue.

"I think it's too costly for the district, and it doesn't matter if the board pays for it or the commission," Johnna McKinnon said. "At the end of the day, the taxpayers are paying for it. It's a lose-lose for everybody."

Studdard said with more than 35,000 students in Clay County, the people should have a voice in how the leader of their schools is chosen.

"The county has grown up enough now to where they deserve the option to vote on this, and if they want an appointed (superintendent), fine. If they still want an elected (superintendent) that's fine, too, but it's their choice," Studdard said last month.

But not everyone believes changing to an appointed superintendent will necessarily be the best option.

Some people worry that if the superintendent was appointed it would be decided by the five school board members, but Studdard said she hopes a citizen committee would be formed that would help board members in making the decision on who to appoint.

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