Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

School Superintendent Burns Faces Suits, Complaints, Etc. School Board’s Curtis Gaus Announces He’ll Run For Her Job

If  Nassau County School Superintendent Kathy Burns hasn’t been seen campaigning for reelection it’s understandable, she’s busy battling a rapidly growing list of complaints, a lawsuit and more.

In addition to the recently filed lawsuit Burns is wrestling with a public outcry over her excessive one mill tax increase and the highly inflated purchase price of a piece of property while facing accusations about what teachers, administrators and residents say is her indignant, belligerent, unresponsive and retaliatory attitude, and a failure to respond to questions from tax payers and media including:

  • The law suit accusing Burns of failure to comply with open records law was filed by the Nassau County branch of Citizens Defending Freedom (CDF) requesting details on material “explicit in nature and unsuitable for children.”
  • An ongoing public fury for her endorsement of an excessive one mill tax increase that was declared unnecessary by Nassau County Property Appraiser Mike Hickox and opposed by one of her board members, Curtis Gaus.
  • Gaus publicly announcing this week that he will oppose Burns in the August election.
  • The School Board’s purchase of a piece of property for what many say is a vastly excessive sum of tax payer money in 2019.
  • Failure to respond to inquiries about the numbers and costs of illegal aliens in the school system.
  • Numerous accusations that Burns is defensive, unresponsive, retaliatory, and deceptive and her assistant superintendent, Mark Durham designated as the “go-to person for inquiries” is equally abrasive and unresponsive.

Gaus Announces Candidacy: Current School Board member Curtis Gaus, a widely popular former principal of West Nassau High School, has announced that he will run to replace Burns as superintendent in the August election. He cited the above summary of criticism as incentives for his candidacy.

Gaus, who has 27 years teaching and administrative experience, currently teaches at a school in Camden County, Georgia while his wife teaches special education in Hilliard. Gaus was singled out by County Tax Appraiser Mike Hickox for standing up to Burns on the controversial one mill tax increase (see below) and scolded by Burns for defying her.

Overseeing the Nassau School District is a formidable task as it commands a whopping $250 million budget and it is the largest employer in the county. That it needs strong public oversight and trusted leadership is an understatement and Burns isn’t up to the task.

Contact Gaus at (904) 206-7041 or on Facebook: Gaus4superintendent2024.

“They’re showing this stuff to our kids at school.”

Suit Claims School Materials Inappropriate: The CDF suit filed last week says the material Burns refuses to publicly release contains age inappropriate topics including: foreplay, incest, masturbation, roofies, gender roles, gender identity and much more.

“It appears that no parent, no citizen, and not even the school district or school board has seen the curriculum that is being presented to the most vulnerable students in our schools,” says Jack Knocke Executive Director of CDF. “For far too long we as citizens and parents have trusted schools to offer appropriate learning materials. A quick scan of our suit and the meager amount of materials identified thus far, indicate that as a community our trust has been misplaced. ”

Burns’ One Mill Millstone:  Burns’ attempts to deflect her responsibility for obscuring the results of the massive increase in school taxes and her obfuscation were made very apparent by the well-respected, honest, and open Nassau County Property Appraiser Mike Hickox in a public letter headlined: “No lack of communication.”

Hickox requested a meeting with Burns well in advance of the November 2022 ballot measure to explain that the property tax numbers she was using were not accurate and that the state millage illustration used in her marketing piece was misleading.

Burns ignored Hickox and proceeded with her misleading campaign to hose the county’s tax payers with a one mill increase rather than the .50 or .75 that would have done the job with money left over. Local tax payers will have a chance to demonstrate their “appreciation” for their massive tax increase during this August’s election.

In her marketing material Burns clearly states most of the employee compensation would go to teachers. Only 50.5% went to teachers.

“One mill, a half mill, what’s the difference?”

In a public letter Hickox said: “When we first saw the marketing piece over a year ago, we requested a meeting with Kathy Burns. We told her during that meeting the property value numbers they were using were not accurate and the graph showing the declining STATE millage (tax rate) was misleading. Only one member of the board reached out to me with questions about values prior to the vote on the millage rate. Curtis Gaus attempted to do the right thing in the meeting and was scolded by Burns for proposing a reduction without notice. No other member of the board talked to my office.”

“The actual estimate the NCSB used came from a forecast made in January 2022. They never used an updated value they knew, or should have known, existed. “

According to Hickox, Superintendent Burns knew well in advance of the vote that the one mill increase would raise an amount well over the requested $13.7 million.

“No clear explanation has been made for the cash grab. Remember, this is only the first of a four-year window granted by the tax referendum and it has already generated around $3 million more than was sought by the District’s marketing campaign,” said Hickox.

As a result Burns saddled already over burdened Nassau County tax payers with even more financial distress.

A Million Or Two More! So What, It’s  Not My Money: This the same Burns’-led School Board that approved the purchase of property in Yulee from a local group for $3,750,000.00 that a year earlier had been purchased for just $1,400,000.00.  Don’t ask questions, just sit back and accept Burns’ explanation and be glad she’s not your realtor or financial advisor.

“Questions? We don’t gotta answer no stinkin’ questions!”

Questions Are Considered Attacks: Jack Knocke’s CDF group’s questions to  Burns’ Assistant School Superintendent Mark Durham, are treated with equal silence and rudeness.

Knocke says that Durham, in response to his queries about the system’s budget, angrily spat: “I don’t have to tell you anything.” And he didn’t. Since the school board doesn’t have an official spokesperson, Knocke was told Durham is the “go-to” person to respond to inquiries. His rudeness and unresponsiveness to inquires illustrates the contempt he and Burns have for tax payers and the parents of the kids that he and the Board are charged with educating.

When I called him he was equally unresponsive. The uncommunicative and curt administrator never bothered to return my many calls to him despite leaving several messages.

When I’ve called Burns to ask a question I have only once received a response, and that was when she hissed: “I feel like you’re attacking me.” That’s when I questioned her about the number of illegal immigrant kids in our schools, the cost to tax payers, and how many English-as-a-second-language teachers the system has hired because of illegal immigration. I still don’t have answers to those questions.

Almost half of the average Nassau County property owner’s local taxes go to fund the school system. Yet the folks that work there, whose salaries locals pay, won’t respond to inquiries about how they spend the tax payer’s money.

***

“I’ll expose and humiliate all those right wing whales.”

Media Malfeasance: Why don’t locals read about the School Board mess in the local print News Leader? Call the paper’s editor Tracy Dishman at (904) 261-3696 and ask her. In a  recent editorial she said she welcomes and encourages inquiries and comments from residents. However, she failed to mention that those comments and inquiries that oppose her far left ideology will be ignored and discarded.

Dishman’s editorial stewardship of the News Leader is a local reflection on the current state of the U.S. media and the decline of journalism, particularly print journalism.

Above the Page 1 News Leader story this past Thursday, Feb. 21, announcing the County Citizens Defending Freedom lawsuit against the school board, was a one-half page “dead right whale” article (one of three on the front page the past two months) with a four column color photo of the beached critter, not in Nassau County, but on a beach in Tybee Island, Georgia, 150 miles North of Amelia Island. It was bylined by Dishman, prominently flaunting that her priorities are not with residents within the paper’s circulation radius.

It’s regrettable that an endangered right whale died in Georgia, but it’s even more regrettable that Dishman ignores tax payers hereabouts getting financially screwed by local elected officials. Or is she just a lousy editor exercising poor news judgement?

The News Leader CCDF lawsuit article was bylined by a reporter with the fortunate name of Julia Roberts, who turned a crisply written CCDF news release into an incomprehensible word jumble.

Somehow, conservative News Leader columnist Steve Nicklas, who has been in Dishman’s crosshairs since she arrived here, managed to dodge her blue editing pen with his Wednesday, Feb. 21 column. Headlined “School system communications to the public lacking” Nicklas clearly details Burns’ antics, attempts at secrecy and the current lawsuit.

I suspect Dishman will assign a Burns’ defense to her two leftwing extremist columnists, Mark Tomes, and Chuck Oliva, who will twist themselves into hilarious editorial knots attempting to explain away the criticism.

  • Comment (11)
  • I think Mark Twain in credited with this observation: if you do not read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the paper, you are misinformed. Maybe that should be the Leader’s motto.

    • Even more appropriate for this piece, Twain wrote, “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

  • Gaus did not vote against the budget; did nothing about citizens oversight committee or raise the issue re: Kestedes on teachers advisory board etc

    Has he said he’ll roll back the mil? Haven’t seen that

    And btw only 35% of the $$ raised went to teachers – the 50.5 % includes other professionals

  • Most call the NL “The Mullet Wrapper” because that’s all it’s good for.
    Thanks for keeping the School Board fiasco out there…the voters need to fix this.

  • I’ll preface this comment by stating that my wife and I are retired here going on 15 years after a combined 90 (that is correct) years of private and public education, from K-University levels of teaching and administration work in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
    Our opinion, after working alongside both elected and appointed superintendents, is that a lot of politics will be taken out of the equation when leaders with experience from different locales are appointed. Maybe not your feelings but our experiences. Maybe the best leadership of our children and school system operations would come after a thorough search appointed by the board either local educators and/or from other systems? The way it is now is more political as wife Dr. Annie and I have experienced in our long tenure.

  • Mr. Gaus was formerly the Principal of West Nassau High School, not Yulee. Gosh, I guess anyone can make a mistake!

  • In my career on K-12 education, I ran 4 Superintendent of Schools recruitments. They were all apppointed, needless to say. None of the 5 individuals who ran in either 2016 and 2020 would have received an interview from me. This is what you get with an elected superintendent, choosing from county residents with limited qualifications. There are many highly qualified candidates to choose from for an appointed superintendent. It’s time to end this as an elected position.

  • Dave, fine job exposing some school district weaknesses. Based on past experience, doesn’t look like the incumbent district officials will react to objections and right the situation. It will take new faces, hopefully of people better and more responsive. I have experienced the same evasion and In trying to communicate with Burs and Durham. Unacceptable.

    What behavioral changes has Mr. Gaus committed to for gain of our support?

    Burns has been dining out on her claim of being the #2 district in the state, but if that only results in 39% of students meeting the already dumbed math standards, then it’s a hollow victory. Add to that objectionable, if not also illegal, books in the library and possible SEL curriculum and we’ve got massive issues.

    No one has explained to me why we need over $20,000 per student annually and rapidly rising.

  • Dave they are not illegal immigrants, they are illegal aliens, you have to go through an immigration process in order be to an “immigrant”. Let’s not dignify them for their 1st criminal act: Crossing the border illegally!

  • Ha! Thanks for the Alfonso Badoya reference……there was an AM radio station in San Francisco in 1979 that had a very strong signal. They would host a morning call in show of Badoya imitations (the best ones were from those obviously still inebriated from a long night out). We would dial it up on our ADF receiver quite aways out over the Pacific coasting in from a long overnight flight from Japan. It gave us some assurance we were “close” to being on course and provided a lot of laughter.

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