FLEMING ISLAND – The Fleming Island High In-Service Training Facility was packed Thursday, April 1, as students, teachers and administrators prepared to grill the school board about athletic field …
FLEMING ISLAND – The Fleming Island High In-Service Training Facility was packed Thursday, April 1, as students, teachers and administrators prepared to grill the school board about athletic field maintenance.
It turned out that wasn’t needed, as the board announced before the public comment section it intended to approve a long-delayed request for proposal to provide maintenance for stadiums and park at local schools. The board then approved a $42,000 contract with AGROW PRO Inc. for “athletic field maintenance services,” and it had been something on the board’s docket since last December.
The fields were already in need of maintenance last December, but the item was continually pushed after motions weren’t seconded, which led the item to a dead end. The students and sports-related teachers, coaches and administrators continued to grow frustrated and they showed up in droves during the last meeting prepared to plead with the board.
It wasn’t necessary, though, as despite hearsay on social media, the board intended to pass the request for proposal that night.
“This board cares deeply about our students whether they’re in our classrooms or on our fields,” board member Janice Kerekes said. “I can see this passing tonight...and business [can] go back to the way it was. I think...if you know our intention [to pass], maybe you don’t want to come up here.”
This is in reference to the 28 commenter cards the board had received, all from people intending to talk about why the board needed to approve the RFP.
“We have a consensus where the majority of us are voting for this,” she said. “We all deeply care about our fields, our classrooms, our gymnasiums and our resources and I just want to put that out there.”
There literally was a sigh of relief from the dozens of people who supported the RFP, but many still spoke. Each person, though, expressed how they had a different speech prepared before they heard Kerekes say the board was going to approve the RFP.
“Why is this important?” Jay Stillanou said. “That’s an important question to ask. [The answer is] because we’re prideful in Clay County. Our fields looked terrible, beyond bad. What you’re seeing is green, but it’s not grass. It’s weeds. Our fields can be some of the best around and this is the right thing to do for our kids. This reaffirms that we live in the greatest county.”
Middleburg High senior, Brooke Swinson, explained that the outcome of the school board’s decision that night greatly impacts the safety of Clay County school fields. She said the board should recognize that students from different schools were at the meeting, standing in solidarity, because “rivalries come to a standstill when our gameplay is in jeopardy.”
The school board approved the proposal, 4-0, with board member Ashley Gilhousen recusing herself from the vote because her brother is the contractor.
In other business, CESPA president Lonnie Roberts asked the board to focus on hiring employees, not outside contractors, for many projects like cutting grass.
“The custodians themselves cut the grass and they did a good job,” Roberts said. “You put all of the custodians back into the buildings to free up others inside and then [you] went out and hired a grass cutting service. In my opinion, that service needs to go.”
Roberts said he’s seen knee-high grass at schools like Green Cove Springs Junior and Fleming Island highs.
“We talk about athletic fields, the safety of children and the pride of looking good throughout the entire district. Let’s take a look at some of the grounds themselves. If you drove by [GCSJH and FIH], you’d say something is in distress.”
Roberts said the school board won’t find better service than the service of the people they already employ. They can be anywhere in the county fixing a problem, he said, meanwhile grass is knee-high at some schools. He said people actually employed by the district take pride in their job, especially when compared to outside contractors and service companies.
“Now that we’ve hired someone else to do the grass...I’m not seeing the pride,” Roberts said. “These contractors come in and it’s another dig at support employees, another way to gut the employees from their jobs. Every time I turn around, it’s ‘let’s go out for a bid or another contract.’ Why don’t we just go ahead and hire people?
“The way we’ve been doing it for so long has got to change. All of our experience is leaving.”