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.