Christopher Bernier will take over as Duval Schools superintendent on July 1. | Megan Mallicoat, Jacksonville TodayChristopher Bernier will take over as Duval Schools superintendent on July 1. | Megan Mallicoat, Jacksonville Today
Christopher Bernier will take over as Duval Schools superintendent on July 1. | Megan Mallicoat, Jacksonville Today

Bernier hired as Duval superintendent at $320,000 per year

Published on June 12, 2024 at 6:43 pm

The Duval County School Board on Wednesday approved a contract worth more than a million dollars over its four-year term for incoming Superintendent Christopher Bernier. 

With little substantive discussion, the board voted 6-1 in favor of approving the final version of the contract, which gives Bernier $320,000 per year in base pay, plus a number of extras.

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Board member Warren Jones — the lone dissenter — said he voted against the contract because he felt the pay was too high. His support for Bernier is unwavering, he said, even considering a number of allegations that have surfaced in the weeks since the board selected Bernier as its next leader. 

“I believe that we’ve selected the best person to be the next superintendent of Duval County — I have concerns about the contract and the contract only,” Jones said during the meeting. “I don’t want anyone to misinterpret a vote against the contract.”

After the meeting, Bernier met with reporters for a few minutes. When asked about the whistleblower complaint and other allegations, he said he believes “the facts will bear themselves out.”

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“I don’t believe the whistleblower complaint has any factual basis,” Bernier said.

Bernier’s salary is less than the $350,000 per year he requested but more than the $280,000 the board countered with. Interim Superintendent Dana Kriznar and her predecessor, Superintendent Diana Greene, both made $300,000. 

Board member Lori Hershey said the leader of an organization as large as Duval County Public Schools deserves a high salary.

“I think that we are finally in a position where we are competitive with our pay,” Hershey said. “It represents and is reflective of other large urban districts.”

Bernier requested perks like a hefty retirement contribution, $1,000 a month for a car allowance, an expense account and $50,000 to hire a mentor, but the board did not agree to most of them.

The board did include use of a fleet vehicle, up to $15,000 in moving expenses and nearly $28,000 a year toward a voluntary retirement account.

Because of Florida’s so-called Sunshine Laws, which require the School Board to conduct business in a public setting, Wednesday’s meeting was the first time the board met as a group to discuss the provisions of the contract. Board attorney Ray Poole met with each board member individually and created the contract from their feedback. Several members were surprised to learn the idea of performance incentives — which were not part of the final contract — had broad support among the board. 

“I also lobbied hard for performance-based pay,” board member Cindy Pearson said. “I would be willing to pay an incentive for a superintendent who can stop the bleeding of students from the district, stabilize, and then turn around to see our enrollment climbing.”

Board member Charlotte Joyce agreed.

“I think that moving forward, a new board that will negotiate a contract in the future really should consider performance-based compensation,” she said.

The meeting also included a time for public comment. Two people spoke against Bernier’s hiring, and one spoke in favor. The board, though, remained united in its support of Bernier. 

“I do believe that of the 21 people who applied for the superintendent position, Dr. Bernier stood out to me as the most qualified and also the best fit for Duval County Public Schools for where we are right now,” board member Pearson said.

Board Chair Darryl Willie said the board has talked with “dozens” of people about Bernier and is confident in its decision.

“This is what happens in this political time that we’re in. Folks are going to pick a side or say, hey, they claim this person,” Willie said. “I want to tell you right now — no one group, no one person can say, ‘This is my person, and I’m the only one that can have conversations or interact or influence them.’” 

Bernier is scheduled to start his position July 1.

author image Reporter email Megan Mallicoat is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on education. Her professional experience includes teaching at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, as well as editing, communications management, web design, and graphic design. She has a doctorate in mass communication with an emphasis in social psychology from UF. In her "free time," you'll most likely find her on the sidelines of some kind of kids’ sports practice, holding a book.

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