Some Clay county administrators feel pressured to remain quiet and even donate to Van Zant’s campaign

By Laura Mayberry

 It’s
no surprise that many teachers in Clay County are frustrated with current
Superintendent Charlie Van Zant. We have blogged about it, posted on Facebook,
spoken at school board meetings, and written letters to the newspaper. Most of
the teachers who are speaking up have professional services contracts. No, that
doesn’t mean tenure. No, that doesn’t mean a job for life. It means we have due
process. We cannot be arbitrarily let go at the end of the school year.
Although any teacher, regardless of contract status, should feel comfortable
voicing their concerns and opinions, annual contract teachers live in fear of
being told they are “not a good fit” and their contract is not being renewed.

With all of this anger and frustration towards the superintendent and some
school board members, why aren’t we hearing from school and district level
administrators? Their silence this election cycle is deafening. Many people
don’t realize that they are on annual contract too. They fear being transferred
or losing their job at the end of each year. As much as the Van Zant campaign
likes to use catchy phrases about not bringing Duval policies to Clay (as a
slight against his opposition, Addison Davis), the constant shuffling of
administrators is a trademark Duval tactic that we have seen a lot of in the
last few years.
Clay
County administrators have been virtually silent about our current situation,
which is a shame. Their insight into district policies and how they have
affected teacher morale would shed more light on what is going on in our
schools.

Despite
their lack of gusto in supporting Van Zant for reelection, there is one
critical way that they have shown their “support” for our current
superintendent – with their wallets. A quick trip to the Clay County Supervisor
of Elections website will show you that the campaign contributions have been
rolling in. While I wasn’t there to see those checks being written, one can
only assume that for many administrators it was with gritted teeth and after
much moral wrangling. I’m willing to bet some of them have never donated to a
political campaign in their life. I take that back. Some of them did donate
once before – to Van Zant’s 2012 campaign. Interestingly, the donations from
administrators were still pouring in even after he defeated Ben Wortham in the
primary election. There was zero chance of his losing the general election, yet
the money kept coming. Draw your own conclusions there.

I
participated in the legislative committee meeting where CCEA vetted Addison
Davis. The subject of campaign contributions came up and he stated that he
would not seek out contributions from Duval County administrators because it
wasn’t right to put them in that position. I wish our superintendent had done
the same. Sending district level administrators into schools to encourage
donations is ethically questionable. Using any means, stated or implied, to
pressure your employees to fund your reelection campaign is wrong. It amounts
to extortion. Pay-to-play doesn’t seem like a traditional family value to me.
The right thing to do would have been to announce that he would decline all
donations from his employees to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

One
of the worst parts about these donations is that they are causing rifts at the
school level. Many teachers have become disheartened after finding out that one
of their administrators has made a donation. While we understand the pressure
that they are under and sympathize with them, it still stings. Teachers have
been putting their jobs on the line to stand up for their students and their
working conditions, only to have their bosses unwittingly help the very man
whom many of us view as just a politician climbing his way up the ladder, not
an education practitioner looking out for the best interests of all students.

*Upon
further reflection, I want to make it clear that the intent of this post is not
to “out” specific administrators for their donations. I actually feel sorry for
them. I know why they did what they did. They have a mortgage to pay and mouths
to feed just like teachers do. They know on which side their bread is buttered.
It is a shame that they are put in this difficult position. It’s too bad they
don’t have a union that would protect them against this unfair labor practice. 

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