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Nassau School District Budget Process Post-Mortem and Observations

Club 14 Fitness


By George Miller, 10-6-22

At the 9-8-22 special meeting/final public hearing on the Budget, the Nassau County School Board approved a $258,397,234.33 budget, a 10.6% year over year increase for the upcoming fiscal year. As recently as 2013-14, it was only about $52 million. There were 12,380 students last year. The entire meeting with this and six minutes for just two public comments took only 25 minutes. However, much prior planning and discussion went into it. But the board and administration had vigorously resisted any formal oversight and heavy public interaction in this process.

The regular board meetings aren’t much different, with agenda items raised, with little discussion and no real presentations to explain it to the public, very thin public participation, and not a lot of board interaction, then voted on, usually unanimously.

For this article, Citizens Journal drew upon Richard Lamken, a former Assistant Schools Superintendent elsewhere who also held other senior positions in the public and private sectors. He is also the education board member for County Citizens Defending Freedom’s (CCDF-USA) Nassau County, FL Chapter. (Editor’s note: the author of this article is not a public education professional or expert, but has covered 5 different school boards (such as this one in CA) sporadically over the years and done executive/management education as a consultant.)

Keep in mind that Nassau County School District is rated #2 in the entire Florida state roster of public schools which participate in the evaluation process, so they must be doing something right. But Florida is, in turn, only about 26th in state rankings. Also keep in mind that the student body is heavily middle class white, a demographic exceeded in performance only by students of Asian extraction. District student make-up is 79.1% (FL- 36.1%) white, 6.6% (FL- 21.3%) black, 7.8% (FL- 35.5%) Hispanic, 5.3% (FL- 4%) identify as multi-racial, Asian 1% (FL 2.8%). Lamken also points out that the district is more free of the social turmoil and “wokeism” of other counties such as Duval County.

Teacher Salaries a Significant Issue

Lamken thinks the district is academically doing well when compared to other districts in a middle of the road state. He thinks teachers here are still significantly underpaid – including entry level people who start at $46-47,000, plus benefits. What’s worse, he said, is that the compensation upside for experienced teachers with advanced degrees is too small to attract experienced educators. The state has contributed substantial dollars to increase entry level salaries but attached a proviso that prevents the normal salary differential based on experience and advanced education. Now we have major inflation on top of that to keep up with. He believes that this contributes to the very high district teacher turnover, which puts a strain on district resources and the quality of instruction. He said that in 2019-20, 47% of the district’s educators were in their first, second or third year of teaching and that he thinks that number is even higher now with 15-20% turnover the last two years.

When asked if this proposed 1 mill increase referendum for it is on the November ballot), which he said amounts to about $250/year/family, could become unnecessary if other cuts were made, he would only say that cuts look possible but was not willing to venture how much or where. Per Mr. Lamken, the Superintendent has refused to say, when asked by Board members, what her Plan B is, if the referendum fails to pass.

When CJ asked him how the district was able to score so well vs. other participating Florida districts, he attributed it to the hard work of individual educators, the District’s “teach to the test” focus and the excellence of the Executive Director of Curriculum & Instruction. Misty Mathis is the Executive Director who has been with the District for 25 years. See: http://nassaucountysd.swagit.com/play/09082022-785

Nassau County School Ratings Overview (source: Director Cindy Mathis)
Nassau County School Board Curriculum & Instruction Overview (source: Director Cindy Mathis)

Other Ratings


Budget Process

As described by Mr. Lamken, There were three budget workshops before the September 8 final approval meeting. Roughly a third of the budget was covered in each one. The sessions were open to comments and questions by board members. The public could also participate but only in 3-minute opportunities for comment per person per session. They were not interactive and questions most often went unanswered or were inadequately answered, including those asked by Board members, per Mr. Lamken. The District failed to have the Department Managers who created their Budgets there to answer questions of the Board members Some Department Budgets had increased 20-25% year over year.

Inflation, year over year increase in students and competitive salary adjustments were offered as reasons for at least some of the 10.6% year-over-year budget increase, according to Mr. Lamken. I asked him for a ten-year budget vs students served chart, which he doesn’t have, so Citizens Journal is requesting this info from the district.

Although school board meetings are televised and have on demand video available online to the public, the workshops do not, nor do they have well-developed agendas (look at the August 1, 2022 workshop agenda). Some of the meeting agendas do not have links for all meeting materials. Considering that, the lack of access to the decision making process and what Lamken says are unsatisfactory answers to questions and observed lack of discussion on or even explanation of meeting items before quickly moving to votes, which we have also observed via video, would collectively seem to mean a lack of transparency and accountability in the process.

Citizens District Advisory Board

Those who have been following district news know that Mr. Lamken has been a big proponent of forming a Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC), which he has repeatedly proposed/advocated. The district finally put it on the agenda, but voted it down 4-1, with only Dr. Grooms voting for it. Reasons given for refusal of this discretionary move included: it takes too much time, the public wouldn’t understand the complexity, audits haven’t uncovered any issues and that it wouldn’t significantly improve results. Not once did anyone talk about a review of HOW the District is spending taxpayer money. Lamken did concede that it would take more time and effort by district personnel but disagreed that it wouldn’t be worthwhile or that interested members of the public were incapable of understanding. Two citizens with substantial School District finance experience have agreed to serve if the CBAC is created.

Mr. Lamken further told us on 10-7-22: “As far the budget process is concerned, only by having a CBAC will Citizens really be able to understand the Departmental budget building process, be able to question those responsible for their Department’s budget and get meaningful data. The current budget process is one where even Board members don’t get meaningful and complete answers to their questions do they don’t insist on getting one. It’s very much a “you don’t have a need to know” process.”

September 8 Special Meeting Agenda

1. Meeting Opening

A. Call to Order

2. Discussion Items

A. Discussion of Rollback Rate

B. Discussion of Five Year Work Plan


3. Action Items

A. Five Year Work Plan

B. Required Local Effort Millage

C. Discretionary Millage

D. Capital Improvement Millage

E. 2022-2023 District Summary Budget


F. Resolution #1359 – Revenues & Millages

G. Resolution #1360 – Final Budget 2022-2023


4. Adjournment

A. Adjournment

Editor’s note: These items had attachments. We’re just showing samples. Go to School Board website for more.

Regular meeting

9-8-22 official meeting minutes SOURCE

School Board Special Meeting – Budget (Thursday, September 8, 2022)

Generated by Connie Daughtry on Friday, September 9, 2022

Members present
Donna Martin, Gail Cook, Jamie Deonas, Lissa Braddock, Cynthia Grooms

Others present

Scott Hodges, Mark Durham, Misty Mathis, Bill Plachinski, and Judith Meredith.

Meeting called to order at 5:30PM

Meeting Opening

Procedural: A. Call to Order

Ms. Cook opened the meeting with prayer and Dr. Grooms led the pledge to the American flag.

Discussion Items

Discussion: A. Discussion of Rollback Rate

Superintendent Burns led the discussion of the rollback rate.

Discussion: B. Discussion of Five-Year Work Plan

Superintendent Burns answered questions from the Board.

Action Items

Action: A. Five Year Work Plan

Approval of the Five-Year Work Plan.

Motion by Jamie Deonas, second by Lissa Braddock.

Final Resolution: Motion Carries

Yes: Donna Martin, Gail Cook, Jamie Deonas, Lissa Braddock, Cynthia Grooms

Action: B. Required Local Effort Millage

To approve the Required Local Effort Millage as 3.253 mils plus a prior year adjustment of .002 for a total of 3.255.

Motion by Jamie Deonas, second by Lissa Braddock.

Final Resolution: Motion Carries

Yes: Donna Martin, Gail Cook, Jamie Deonas, Lissa Braddock, Cynthia Grooms

Action: C. Discretionary Millage

To approve the Discretionary Millage as .748 mills.

Motion by Gail Cook, second by Cynthia Grooms.

Final Resolution: Motion Carries

Yes: Donna Martin, Gail Cook, Jamie Deonas, Lissa Braddock, Cynthia Grooms

Action: D. Capital Improvement Millage

To approve the Capital Improvement Millage as 1.5 mills.

Motion by Jamie Deonas, second by Lissa Braddock.

Final Resolution: Motion Carries

Yes: Donna Martin, Gail Cook, Jamie Deonas, Lissa Braddock, Cynthia Grooms

Action: E. 2022-2023 District Summary Budget

To approve the 2022-2023 District Summary Budget in the amount of $258,397,234.33.

Motion by Jamie Deonas, second by Gail Cook.

Final Resolution: Motion Carries

Yes: Donna Martin, Gail Cook, Jamie Deonas, Lissa Braddock, Cynthia Grooms

Action: F. Resolution #1359 – Revenues & Millages

To adopt Resolution #1359 determining revenues and millages levied.

Motion by Gail Cook, second by Cynthia Grooms.

Final Resolution: Motion Carries

Yes: Donna Martin, Gail Cook, Jamie Deonas, Lissa Braddock, Cynthia Grooms

Action: G. Resolution #1360 – Final Budget 2022-2023

Adopt Resolution #1360 adopting the Final Budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23.

Motion by Jamie Deonas, second by Lissa Braddock.

Final Resolution: Motion Carries

Yes: Donna Martin, Gail Cook, Jamie Deonas, Lissa Braddock, Cynthia Grooms

Public Comment

Richard Lamken shared concerns with Board procedure and response. Mr. Lamken expressed concerns that the Nassau County School District does not have an easy mechanism to ask questions and get answers.

David Jones questioned the Board regarding a letter received in the mail. The Chair explained that the letter was sent from the County and not the School Board. The Chair and Superintendent attempted to answer questions that Mr. Jones presented in regard to the Nassau County School Board.

The public hearing was closed, and the Chair thanked everyone for their hard work.


Meeting adjourned at 5:55PM

Nassau County School Board

Dr. Kathy K. Burns, Superintendent
Brett Steger, School Board Attorney

Board Members

 Dr. Cindy Grooms

 Donna Martin, Chairman

 Gail Cook, Vice-Chairman

 Jamie Deonas

 Lissa Braddock

We’ll try to do more in-depth analysis in the future as we get more staff and they become more familiar with the school district.

George Miller is Publisher and Co-Founder of Citizens Journal Florida, based in Fernandina Beach. He is a “retired” operations management consultant, software and publishing executive and manufacturing management professional.

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