By George Miller, 8-7-23
Back in May of 2022, Rich Lamken, a Citizens Defending Freedom Board member and Education Lead at the time asked the Nassau County School Board to establish a Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) to give citizens an opportunity to better understand, engage and provide input to the $250+ million annual school district budget. This request was resisted at every step by the Superintendent and the School Board. The School Board pushed it out to the fall election to drop it on the next School Board. The new board voted for the revised oversight of just 5% of the budget that includes the Millage Referendum calling the new committee the Millage Referendum Citizens Oversight Council (MRCOC). Again, they are only overseeing 5% of the budget.
Over the last few months in 2023, the board has established meeting rules, scope, member requirements and 9 seats on the board. With 15 applicants, the school board voted in only 8 members leaving one open seat. Rich Lamken, the first advocate for the citizens board, a regular school board meeting speaker, and an applicant to the MRCOC, was noticeably absent from those selected.
The logical place for Lamken to serve is over the Salaries spending position since that role represents 70% of the Millage Referendum budget. They did not choose Lamken. They chose a relatively unknown applicant with less than 2 years in Nassau, a biologist and public policy analyst. No education experience was checked on her application. Yet, the candidate chosen was placed over the education Salaries budget on the COC which is 70% of the millage referendum budget. Why would the Superintendent and the School Board do this?
A brief deeper look at the chosen candidate’s social media shows a radical social view that may not be appropriate for our local school system. She is a proud donor to the Stonewall Foundation of Greater Sacramento (Empowering LGBTQ+ Students for a more equitable tomorrow) and supporter of the radical democratic Resist movement. No experience and radical ideals.
We have to ask ourselves “what are the Superintendent and School Board trying to do?” Ignoring citizen requests for full budget oversight, cancelling the most qualified, interested and experienced candidate from the oversight board, throwing a lame bone to look at just the millage referendum portion of the budget and then naming an radical idealist applicant to the most influential seat of the COC?
The superintendent and the school board are ALL accountable for this situation. They need to fix this now and stop playing games.
We contacted Citizens Defending Freedom- Nassau’s Executive Dire tor Jack Knocke for comments on this development and received the following:
“I’m happy that Citizens Journal is covering the school board and the budget. Nassau-CDF has been pushing for school district budget oversight for over a year. “I’m shocked to hear the School Board rejected the Lamken application to place a less qualified radical candidate. What did the school board say to justify that decision?”
We also asked Rich Lamken for comments and included them below.
Finally, we’ll forward this column to School Board members and Supt. for comments, which will be published if/when received.
What should we do about this? Do we sit back and roll our eyes or do we make some calls and send some emails?
Nassau County School Board Members
Lissa Braddock 904-507-9522 [email protected]
Gail Cook (904) 261-9127 [email protected]
Shannon Hogue 904-556-1568 [email protected]
Cynthia Grooms 904-845-8105 [email protected]
Curtis Gaus 904-887-9071 [email protected]
Superintendent of Schools
Rich Lamken sent us this:
Here is the Selection Committee’s recommendation to the Board for approval. I’ve looked up Kerestes on LinkedIn, no K-12 experience, at all. Notice that there’s a vacancy. Apparently, it’s not that anyone is or isn’t a better candidate than me, it’s that I’m not welcome on the committee under any circumstances. They’d rather have no one than have Lamken in the Committee.
Let me know if I can fill in any gaps. On the day I interviewed, there was one interviewing before me and one after.
—– Forwarded Message —–
From: Mark Durham <[email protected]>
To: Richard Lamken
Sent: Wednesday, July 19, 2023 at 03:31:17 PM EDT
Subject: Millage Referendum Citizens Oversight Committee
Dear Mr. Lamken,
We would like to thank you for taking the time to apply and interview for a position on the Millage Referendum Citizens Oversight Committee. We appreciate your interest and willingness to serve in this role. Unfortunately, the Selection Committee decided to go with another candidate to represent District 1.
Again, thank you for your support of the Nassau County School District.
Nassau County School District
Here’s my supplemental info that focuses on employee compensation, an area I’m uniquely qualified for. This is the area I mainly addressed in my interview. I talked about my desire for the schools in the District to achieve national excellence, for the District to do a better job preparing students for a career and improving their CTE offerings and overhauling their teacher’s salary schedule to properly compensate experienced teachers and attract very experienced teachers. My application focused on 8 years in K-12 education, mostly as an Assistant Superintendent of Schools for HR and Technology and almost 40 years in HR, 3 years as a CFO, 15 years as a VP, Admin. Services. I talked about being the only citizen to attend all 3 Board Budget Workshops and the Budget hearing; the only one to read the almost 400 pages; the only one to speak and ask questions. The interview went superbly. It was Mark Durham, Assistant Superintendent, NCSD and Shannon Hogue, Board Member, District 1, my district. All kinds of compliments were offered to me.
Relevant previous article:
August 2022 Opinion Piece by Rich Lamken
It’s just a quarter of a billion dollars
On Wednesday, August 3, 2022, the News Leader ran a front-page article entitled, “NCSB votes against budget committee”. In it, I am referred to as the “main force urging the Nassau County School Board to form the committee”, which is correct. I am the Schools Division Lead for County Citizens Defending Freedom, (CCDF). The committee referenced is the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC). While the article is generous to the Board members, including much of their statements, mostly in opposition to the creation of a CBAC, it fails to give me the opportunity to define it, give some background and demonstrate the need for one in the Nassau County School District.
At a Board workshop on May 26th, the Superintendent, Dr. Burns, spoke out in favor of creating a CBAC. I thanked the Superintendent at the Board meeting that followed for her agreement to constitute a CBAC. She accepted my thanks. On June 1st at a meeting with her, Dr. Burns reneged on that commitment after she found that its creation was only encouraged and not mandated in state statutes. I guess best practices never entered her mind. I then began pressing the Board to create a CBAC which is their right and we saw the results at the July 28th Board meeting with only Dr. Grooms understanding what it means for the Board to be transparent and accountable in fiscal matters.
In Florida State Statutes, in section 1011.035 under School Districts fiscal transparency, Districts are encouraged to post on their website the recommendations of the citizens’ budget advisory committee.
Numerous Florida School Districts have CBACs. Here’s a good overview:
Purpose. The Budget Advisory Committee is hereby created for the purposes of making recommendations to the School Board regarding the School District’s annual budget and any policies and practices that may be relevant to the budgeting process.
Committee Key Areas of Responsibility. The Budget Advisory Committee (Committee) shall have such responsibilities as follows:
- Advise the School Board on the degree to which the Superintendent’s Proposed Budget supports best fiscal practices and the School Board’s priorities.
- Make recommendations to the School Board on policies and practices related to the presentation and preparation and execution of the annual budget.
CBACs typically meeting monthly from January through May and twice monthly in June and July. They are involved in all aspects of the Budget creation and development. They serve in an advisory capacity and relate the educational priorities of the parents and the community to the School Board and to the Superintendent.
I am the only citizen to read the almost 400 pages of Budget documentation, to attend all three workshops and to speak at all three, where I was allocated a total of 13 minutes, cumulatively. I was appalled at the lack of oversight by all but Dr. Grooms among the School Board members. Here’s a sample of some of the questions asked and the inadequate answers given, that the Board deemed satisfactory.
Q. Why did this line-item increase from $7,000 to $75,000, year over year? A. It’s just a placeholder!
Q. Why did this line-item increase from $4K to $85K? A. We spent way more than our Budget last year so we just increased this year’s Budget!
Q. Why did this line-item go up over 10% and over 50K? a. Well, you know, everything has gone up!
There was only the Director of Business Services to answer questions, not the Department Managers who created their Department’s Budget.
It seems the Board still believes Brett Seger, Board Attorney, speaking at the July 19th School Board Meeting, regarding the proposed Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) who said, “There’s no more ability to contribute to the process through an advisory committee than there is available currently, which is the workshops, the materials, those kind of things”. My allowance of 13 minutes to address 100 questions and concerns on 50 pages of the Budget Book disproves that theory.
I told the Superintendent and the Board multiple times that we have 4 highly qualified individuals, including 2 with extensive School finance experience, who are willing to serve on a CBAC. It seems the Board isn’t inclined to either be the stewards of the taxpayers’ money or to actually have oversight on the Budget process, as evidenced by their rubberstamping everything, whether they understand it or not. Because of their abdication of this role, we need citizens, who understand the meaning of the word “fiduciary”, to serve on a CBAC. After all, when it comes to this years’ Budget, we are talking about a quarter of a billion dollars! We need a CBAC in place in January, 2023 when next year’s Budget process commences.
In July of 2022 CDF mounted an email and calling campaign to the School Board to establish the oversight board
We are at a crossroads with the Nassau County School District(NCSD). The Superintendent, after multiple earlier prompts from me, at a NCSD Workshop in May, indicated that the District would start utilizing a Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC).
At a Board meeting, two weeks later in early June, she 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. This is little more than blackmail.
I then wrote an email to all five Board members, asking them to step up and insist on the formation and utilization of a CBAC in the current Budget process. I sent them links highlighting two School Districts that effectively utilize CBACs and I also enclosed the State Statute showing that this decision is in their hands not in those of the Superintendent. In my email, I enclosed my phone number along with my email address and ask them to contact me to set up a meeting. I spoke 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. So you ask what do I want of you?
I am 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. Please do not CC me.
I am a member of Common Sense Fernandina Beach and/or County Citizens Defending Freedom.
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.
Thanks for your willingness to assist. There are other initiatives, such as curriculum review, that are forthcoming but, right now, I want to push this one through to the finish line.
Schools Division Leader
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 (10 years) and manufacturing management professional.
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal Florida.