By Richard Lamken
Here’s the summary of the talk I gave on Thursday to the Men’s Newcomers Club. I had a time limit, so I crammed a lot into it.
I have been asked to review with you the facts pertaining to the 1 mill tax referendum on the ballot in November. I am a retired Assistant Superintendent of Schools who has attended and spoken at all but three SB meetings, workshops and hearings during the last 18 months. I am the Schools Division lead for County Citizens Defending Freedom, aka CCDF, Nassau and I also serve on their Board.
Who/what is Nassau Citizens For Great Public Schools? They are a Political Action Committee, a PAC, formed to be the publicity arm for Nassau County School District, specifically for the successful passage of the 1 mill tax referendum. Once the referendum is on the ballot, neither District administrators nor School Board members may publicly advocate for its passage. Money to be used for advertising, signs, billboards, etc. must not be taxpayer money. Donations were made for this purpose to the PAC. It’s unknown who donated the money.
47% of the NCSD teachers were 1st,2nd, or 3rd year teachers in 2019-2020. The District has suffered 15-20% turnover in each of the last 2 years which means it’s now over 50%. The District is 50th out of 67 counties in teacher experience. In the Districts where I served, this would be perceived as and treated as a crisis. Add to this the fact that the NCSD has 124 teachers, up 20% from last year, teaching out of their field or, in other words, teaching a subject for which they’re not certified, you have an extremely challenging environment for student success.
A teacher who comes to the District with 20 years’ experience will only make 4% more than one in their first year of teaching. They can make much, much more in nearby counties. A very common scenario is that NCSD recruits a new teacher who makes an entry level salary that’s comparable or greater than nearby counties. After 3-5 years, they leave and go to a District where they can make an additional $5,000 or more per year. FL is 48th out of 50 states in teacher pay and NCSD is 44th out of 67 FL Counties.
NCSD has refused to conduct face-to-face exit interviews of those resigning, believing that it’s only a salary issue. CCDF, Nassau is conducting phone interviews of teachers who left during the last school year and we are finding that it’s more about culture and individual site and District administrators’ treatment of staff than salary concerns.
The District’s Budget for 2022-2023 is for over $250 million, a 10.6% increase, year over year.
$7.1 million of Federal ESSER funds are being used in place of General Fund $ to balance their Budget. It’s the last year of a three-year allocation that was distributed by the Federal Government for the remediation of the effects of COVID. Some of the line items in ESSER fund appropriations are:
Once spent on these ongoing expenses, this money must be replaced in next year’s budget whether or not the referendum passes.
The District has had difficulty meeting the 3% minimum reserve in the past few years, often misusing Proshare monies, distributed by the District’s medical carrier for reimbursement to its employees, to meet the 3% reserve.
The referendum is estimated to raise $13.7 million, 70% going to salary increases, 9% to music and the Arts, 9% to Athletics and 12% to School Safety. If passed, the money will begin to “accumulate” so the District will begin to get the referendum money in January 2023.
The District has refused to create a Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, CBAC, recently rejecting it by a vote of 4-1 following along with the recommendation of the Superintendent. CBACs are commonly utilized by School Districts to promote transparency and provide a vehicle for input by parents and citizens into their childrens’ education. The CBAC would’ve been involved in the entire budgetary process and would have reviewed all $250 million of revenue and expenditures, discuss how these expenditures meet the needs of the students and the goals of parents and community members and make recommendations as to improving the budget development protocols. Only after I challenged the language in the PAC’s promotional information, did the District clarify that they WILL create a Citizens Oversight Committee if, and only if, the referendum passes and only to review how the referendum monies are spent. Another misleading statement in the PAC’s literature is that the Required Local Millage is 3.6 mills. The actual total School Millage rate is 5.5 mills not 3.6, 3.255 Required Local Effort, .748 discretionary and 1.5 capital improvement.
As of the latest Board meeting last Thursday night, these facts remain the same and I am open to your questions.
Mr. Lamken and his wife Meg reside in Fernandina Beach. He is a retired Assistant Superintendent of Schools. He is the President of the Baptist Nassau Hospital Auxiliary and the Schools Division lead and Board member of County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF), Nassau.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal Florida.