Clay School Board Votes To Keep Status Quo On Teacher Contracts

Mar 10, 2016

Parents and teachers wear red at the Clay County School Board hearing on Thursday at Fleming Island High School.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

 Updated 4 p.m.:

The Clay County School Board voted Thursday morning against stipulations teachers wanted in their contracts concerning job security and fair pay.


Hundreds of teachers and supporters  took off work to come to the hearing held during school hours.

During the hearing, reactions from the audience could not be controlled. People yelled out, “Say no to status quo!” and “We’re your teachers!” as the Board deliberated.

Board Chair Johnna McKinnon threatened to kick people out a couple of times.

“Do not be disruptive,” she said. “I am going to start giving warnings, and if you continue to violate those warnings, I will begin asking you to leave one by one.”

The hearing was the result of Clay’s teacher union and board’s not being able to agree to several contract terms. An outside moderator, called a special magistrate, made recommendations that the union supported, but ultimately the School Board did not.

They sided instead with Clay Superintendent Charlie Van Zant, who was against four of the magistrate’s recommendations.

What Teachers Wanted:

Insurance: Teachers currently get $258 per pay period to cover rising health-insurance premiums. Teachers asked for a $30 increase.

Fair pay: For several years, Clay teachers have gotten paid as if they have three years’ less experience than they do. Teachers asked that new hires be discounted three years as well to make things fair.

Job stability: Teachers don’t have to be hired back even if they perform well. They asked that if they are rated “high-performing” three years in a row, their contract will be automatically renewed so long as they maintain that status. But, they would be still able to be fired for just cause.

Training: If teachers sit through a conference or training, sometimes they’re required to fill out paperwork later to show how they’ve implemented what they learned in order to get credit. Teachers asked for partial credit for just for attending the training.  

The magistrate recommended in favor of the teachers on all four issues, but it was non-binding.

What Teachers Got:

Eric Holshouser argued on behalf of Clay’s superintendent.

On the matter of insurance, he said the increase was just too expensive. He estimated it would have cost the district about $1.9 million.

On the matter of automatic contract renewal, he argued it is in the public's best interest to not have tenured teachers. That was why the Legislature passed the 2011 Student Success Act, he said.

“Our position is that the Florida Legislature determined by the voters what the public interest and welfare is, and they did away with continuing contracts,” he says. “So our position is we should stick to the status quo on that.”

School Board member Ashley Gilhousen agreed, and said the district does show preference to already-employed teachers “while also maintaining the ability to eventually hire an outside applicant should they prove to be more qualified.”

The Clay County Education Association’s Tracy Butler argued the opposite, saying it’s in the students’ best interest to have consistency. She says there’s a price that comes with training new hires, and it’s not purely financial.  

“Why are we going to take a brand new person off the street that we know nothing about, we have not vetted, they don’t know the Clay way, and we’re going to allow them to jump into a position?” she asked.

Board members Carol Studdard and Janice Kerekes both voted in favor of the magistrate’s recommendations.

“I, Janice Kerekes, have nothing but the utmost respect for all of our staff, our teachers and our support employees,” she says. “And I do believe that you are the reason that we are an ‘A’ district and we have nothing but the best here. So I agree with the special magistrates recommendations completely.”

But two votes weren’t enough, and the magistrate’s recommendations were shot down with a vote of 3-2 in favor of the status quo.

The superintendent and chair are both running for re-election. Audience members held signs stating “We will vote you out in August.”

Original story below:  

The Clay County School Board voted 3-2 Thursday morning against recommendations from an outside mediator called a special magistrate concerning teacher contracts.

The Board and teachers’ union could not agree about four main points, including guaranteed job stability for high-performing teachers.

The magistrate’s recommendations would have benefited the teachers. School Board member Janice Kerekes was in the minority voting for them.  

“I, Janice Kerekes, have nothing but the utmost respect for all of our staff, our teachers and our support employees,” she says. “And I do believe that you are the reason that we are an ‘A’ district  and we have nothing but the best here. So I agree with the special magistrate's recommendations completely.”

Three board members voted instead for the superintendent’s recommendations. On the issue of guaranteed re-hire for high-performing teachers, memeber Ashley Gilhousen said Clay should have the best of the best.

“Our current practice does show preference to hiring back our own teaches while also maintaining the ability to eventually hire an outside applicant should they prove to be more qualified,” she says.

The hearing caused controversy this week for being scheduled during school hours. Many teachers took off work to attend. Several in the audience wore red in support of teachers and held signs that read “WE WILL VOTE YOU OUT IN AUGUST!”