By Common Sense Fernandina Beach (CSFB)
7-11-22, Fernandina Beach
We are at a crossroads with the Nassau County School District(NCSD). Superintendent Kathy Burns, after multiple earlier prompts from Rich Lamken, at a NCSD Workshop in May, indicated that the District would start utilizing a Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC).
Rich wrote an email to the Superintendent on June 5th, copying the School Board, after his meeting with her on June 1st, where she misinterpreted the State Statute re: the need for a CBAC. The email calls for her to act with transparency, accountability and integrity and establish the CBAC in the current Budget cycle. The email is shown at the end of this communication. No response to this email, a month later, from either the Superintendent or the School Board.
At a Board meeting, on June 9th, Superintendent Burns qualified her statement, saying the formation of the CBAC was conditioned on the 1 Mil tax resolution passing in November, ignoring the need for a CBAC in the current Budget process. Is this an attempt at blackmail to concerned residents and taxpayers?
Rich wrote an email to all five Board members two weeks ago, asking them to step up and insist on the formation and utilization of a CBAC in the current budget process. Links were sent to the Board highlighting two School Districts that effectively utilize CBACs. Also enclosed was the State Statute showing that this decision is in their hands not in those of the Superintendent. In Rich’s email, he enclosed his phone number along with email address and asked them to contact him to set up a meeting. He spoke to the members of both the Schools Division and the Financial Accountability Division and was very pleased by the interest indicated by numerous members, including some with School Finance experience. Only Dr. Grooms has responded and they’re arranging to meet at a mutually convenient time. Nothing from the other four.
So, what do we ask of the public?
We are asking each of you (and as many of your friends who will participate) to write to the School Board members and make the following statements in your own words. You can send an email to the Nassau County School board. You can also link this article on social media and add your own words. Our collective community message is:
I support the formation of a Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, (CBAC) for use in the current Budget Cycle as part of the District’s responsibility to be both transparent and accountable.
It’s up to the School Board, not the Superintendent, to make the decision to form and constitute the CBAC.
I reject the notion that the school budget is “too complex” for Nassau County citizens.
You can also send a separate message or call the Nassau County School Board Members (below).
Lissa Braddock 904-507-9522 firstname.lastname@example.org
Gail Cook (904) 261-9127 email@example.com
Jamie Deonas 904-277-0006 firstname.lastname@example.org
Cynthia Grooms 904-845-8105 email@example.com
Donna Martin 904-261-9015 firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is the email sent by Richard Lamken
Sent: Sunday, June 5, 2022 4:23 PM
To: Kathy Burns email@example.com
Cc: Misty Mathis firstname.lastname@example.org; Donna Martin email@example.com; Gail Cook firstname.lastname@example.org; Jamie Deonas email@example.com; Cynthia Grooms firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Subject: Citizens Budget Advisory Committee
This is a follow-up to our meeting last Wednesday and our discussion concerning several items of mutual interest. This is the citation related to Citizens Budget Advisory Committees for School Districts in the Florida State Statutes. The bolding is mine. What’s “encouraged” is the posting on the district’s website, not the creation and utilization of the Committee. It’s a vital part of transparency, as spelled out in (1).
“Budgetary transparency leads to more responsible spending, more citizen involvement, and improved accountability”.
1011.035 School district fiscal transparency.—
(1) It is important for school districts to provide budgetary transparency to enable taxpayers, parents, and education advocates to obtain school district budget and related information in a manner that is simply explained and easily understandable. Budgetary transparency leads to more responsible spending, more citizen involvement, and improved accountability. A budget that is not transparent, accessible, and accurate cannot be properly analyzed, its implementation thoroughly monitored, or its outcomes evaluated.
(2) Each district school board shall post on its website a plain language version of each proposed, tentative, and official budget which describes each budget item in terms that are easily understandable to the public and includes:
(a) Graphical representations, for each public school within the district and for the school district, of the following:
1. Summary financial efficiency data.
2. Fiscal trend information for the previous 3 years on:
a. The ratio of full-time equivalent students to full-time equivalent instructional personnel.
b. The ratio of full-time equivalent students to full-time equivalent administrative personnel.
c. The total operating expenditures per full-time equivalent student.
d. The total instructional expenditures per full-time equivalent student.
e. The general administrative expenditures as a percentage of total budget.
f. The rate of change in the general fund’s ending fund balance not classified as restricted.
(b) A link to the web-based fiscal transparency tool developed by the department pursuant to s. 1010.20 to enable taxpayers to evaluate the financial efficiency of the school district and compare the financial efficiency of the school district with other similarly situated school districts.
This information must be prominently posted on the school district’s website in a manner that is readily accessible to the public.
(3) Each district school board is encouraged to post the following information on its website:
(a) Timely information as to when a budget hearing will be conducted.
(b) Each contract between the district school board and the teachers’ union.
(c) Each contract between the district school board and noninstructional staff.
(d) Each contract exceeding $35,000 between the school board and a vendor of services, supplies, or programs or for the purchase or lease of lands, facilities, or properties.
(e) Each contract exceeding $35,000 that is an emergency procurement or is with a single source as authorized under s. 287.057(3).
(f) Recommendations of the citizens’ budget advisory committee.
(g) Current and archived video recordings of each district school board meeting and workshop.
(4) The website should contain links to:
(a) Help explain or provide background information on various budget items that are required by state or federal law.
(b) Allow users to navigate to related sites to view supporting details.
(c) Enable taxpayers, parents, and education advocates to send e-mails asking questions about the budget and enable others to view the questions and response.
This Citizens Budget Advisory Committee is essential for the District to be transparent and fully accountable to all parents, citizens and taxpayers. As I stated at a previous Board Meeting, I have several highly qualified individuals, including ones with Schools Finance experience, ready and willing to serve. This needs to get done in the current Budget cycle. Please let me know ASAP so I can contact our members who have expressed an interest with a time and place of the first meeting.
Please provide me with a link or links to the 45 new laws affecting Florida School Districts and, when available, the link for parents and citizens to review the District’s curriculum, both of which we discussed last Wednesday. Thank you for your assistance.
Responses from the Nassau County School Board, Superintendent and the public are welcome
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.
Common Sense Fernandina Beach is a community-based oversight group focusing on responsible government spending, accountability and protecting children/schools. It has over 400 members and thousands of social media followers. Contact Jack Knocke: firstname.lastname@example.org