By Wes Wolfe
May 29, 2022
The Board will also seek a Plan B in case the millage increase doesn’t pass.
It’s not yet official, but all indications are that the Nassau County School Board will move forward with a one mill property tax increase, sent to the voters on the General Election ballot. The increase is estimated to generate an additional $11.5 million for the district to meet its needs over the next four years.
“At some point, the quality begins to suffer (without new investment),” Superintendent Kathy Burns said during the Board’s workshop Thursday.
“We are completing the school year with schools that have had long-term subs all year, because there are not teachers to hire. What it costs to live in Nassau County — you know what that is. We have to continue to do what we need to do, I believe, to be able to recruit teachers.”
People in the community are telling Board member Jamie Deonas that teachers and support staff aren’t paid enough, he said, while schools continue to have to do more with less.
“Looking at these numbers, I don’t like the fact that we’re ranked 50 out of 67 (districts) — I think we’re better than that,” Deonas said. “Are we to blame for that? Is it just where we are? Is it the system that we’re in? I just think we can do better.”
He doesn’t see any other way for the Board to go than asking for a millage increase.
“The money that we would be saving by looking at additional cuts, I just don’t know that they would move the dial enough to make that big of a difference,” Deonas said, “versus one mechanism to bring in X number of dollars — it appears $11 million … that’s substantial.”
Around 85% of the district budget is in personnel costs. In addition to the cost of filling new positions, the School Board is trying to tackle increased costs across categories.
“The Florida Retirement System — that rate is going up significantly,” Burns said. “Costs us a little over a million dollars more. The minimum wage, by October, will have to be at that $15 mark, and we know we absolutely have to do that. … We’re in a pretty good place, but it’ll cost us over $200,000. Our fuel costs have gone up exponentially, as you all know. Just in the last few weeks, we’ve had to move over almost $100,000, and that’s not our final fuel cost. They’ll continue to grow as we move through summer school transporting students there.”
Textbook prices are also going up.
“One thing that’s come to our attention — very similar to what we’re addressing with our teachers — are our officers that we have on our campuses,” Burns said. “Most of them, we have our officers, and we work with the city of Fernandina Beach and the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office. We don’t have a salary schedule for them to receive raises every year. We basically have a base salary schedule.”
Making that change is another cost for the Board to consider, she said.
“If this moves forward, laying out the groundwork for this, there will be a budget advisory committee made up of different groups of people,” Burns said.
The committee is to act like a citizens’ oversight group for the process.
“You all know that … I have always been an advocate for reducing, reducing, reducing, reducing,” Board Chairwoman Donna Martin said, “but our millage rate has been as low as it’s been since 2008, and the cost of living has certainly not gone down. I feel comfortable letting the voters decide.”
The Board also needs a Plan B in case the millage increase doesn’t pass, she said.