Submitted by Dr. Kathy Knight Burns
Nassau County School Superintendent
June 18, 2020
The Coronavirus has altered our classrooms, county, and country. COVID-19 has changed the economic conditions for families and businesses, making our financial outlook uncertain. The Nassau County School Board must lead by example during these challenging times as many citizens are out of work, businesses are closing, and recovery in the short term may be unsettling and unpredictable.
As the Nassau County School Board began their 2020 budget workshops in July 2019, the uncertainty of the school district’s budget, and the inability to meet the growing needs of the district were addressed. An outside audit of the district’s finances was completed in March of 2019. The conclusion was “we can’t keep making it work!” The district’s millage rate is less than it was in 2008. While property values continue to rise, the required local effort is reduced. Technology, mental health, safety, and operations (which includes salaries) were the concerns that were presented.
The Board must maintain a 3% reserve. The Board voted in support of a ballot referendum for an additional 1 mill. Over 27 districts in the state of Florida have approved either additional millage, sales tax, and/or both in order to meet the needs of their school district. The resolution was then presented to the Board of County Commissioners for their consideration and approval. The Board also shared information about the ballot initiative with the City of Fernandina Beach Commission. District leaders, teachers, and support personnel began preparing for informational meetings, and educational materials for the public. AND THEN….on March 13th, everything changed!
This is also the case for the Nassau County School District. The State legislators have proposed a budget that would include a $47,500 beginning teacher salary for teachers. The budget has yet to be signed by the Governor. The proposed budget is not a sure thing. We anticipate changes in the proposed budget due to the loss of sales tax revenues throughout the state.
The District is building the 2021 budget without the state’s approved budget amounts. However, while the funds allocated by the State of Florida to the Nassau County School District are unknown at this time, and while the local millage continues to decrease, the board recognizes the need for financial recovery for all of the county’s citizens and requests that the referendum be removed until:
1. Economic recovery is evident; and
2. Millage education and information can be provided to communities throughout Nassau County for better decision making by the voting citizens
The Board recognizes there are challenging days ahead. Together we must weather this storm. It’s also important to note that increasing the millage is not a board decision. If the millage request ever comes to the ballot, the citizens will determine if it is adopted by their vote.
You can expect a “red wedding” relative to the use of the veto pen this next week. The voters in Nassau County will not support the proposed property tax increase until there is a budget review committee to examine the use of current dollars and to eliminate the wasteful spending and refocus administrative dollars back into the class room. The funding for teacher pay raises should be coming from the dollars associated with the growth, the district has been over reliant on substitute teachers to meet its obligations and needs a more stable approach to instruction. The obesity epidemic is a growing concern and the sale of sugary drinks on campus and in lunch rooms contributes to the growing health crisis impacting our youth and academic performance. Employers need a greater focus on the SAT scores and college readiness, increasing the number of students who receive the bright futures scholarships and raising the math scores. As an employer I have many employees who depend on our schools for good quality instruction, we have great people who work for our schools and perform tremendous deeds for our youth, we must create a framework for success and hopefully the School Board and the Superintendent will look anew at the issues that need attention. This pandemic will absolutely be a game changer and will reset the priority grid, lets hope we get it right.