In a year of highly politicized School Board campaigns across Florida, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis putting the significant strength of his organization behind more than two dozen candidates, the Nassau County School Board races managed to fly under the radar.
In Nassau, there are two contested races — one that’s a matter of old faces, new places, and the other that’s an open seat.
Jamie Deonas loaned his campaign $15,000 in January in his re-election effort to the Nassau County School Board, but the prospect of competing against that money didn’t deter Shannon Hogue or Rick Pavelock from putting up a challenge.
Deonas, the current District 3 member, is running in District 1. He won election and re-election the previous times without opposition.
Deonas has been one of the more vocal members of the Board regarding the need for a 1 mill property tax increase to help deal with the pressure put on the school district and its staff by the county’s extraordinary growth and high standard of living.
“I’ve had the pleasure of sitting here for the past two terms, and I’ve watched this district save, cut, do more with less, and it’s everywhere,” Deonas said at a recent Board meeting. “It not just affects teachers, it affects everybody for our district.”
He had around $13,000 on hand compared to Hogue’s nearly $1,780. Pavlock was $83 in the red as of the latest campaign finance reports.
An educator for more than 20 years, Hogue is currently the reading coach at Emma Love Hardee Elementary.
“Our schools are A rated, and I want us to maintain this level of success,” Hogue said in her campaign announcement.
“To do this, we must think of ways to retain our teachers and also attract new staff. You may already know, the district has a high teacher turnover rate. If this continues, maintaining our A rating will be more difficult. When schools’ ratings begin to drop, so do our property values. We must be proactive for our community.”
The Nassau Teachers’ Association (NTA) announced its endorsements in the Board’s two competitive Primaries recently, backing Hogue in District 1, while putting their support with former West Nassau High School Principal Curtis Gaus in District 3.
“I am thrilled to have earned the trust of the hardworking teachers of Nassau County Schools,” Gaus said in a statement following the endorsement. “I pledge to work with the teachers and the district to find ways to retain quality teachers and keep the Nassau County School District at the top of the state.”
Wagner, a former teacher at Yulee Elementary School, is presently the assistant principal at Windy Hill Elementary in Duval County. He came in third in a three-way race for Nassau County School Superintendent in 2020, drawing 10.2% of the vote. Current Superintendent Kathy Burns claimed 50.8% of the nearly 25,500 votes cast, followed by Dale Braddock, who received 38.8% of the vote.
“My experience of almost 20 years in education will give me the foresight in understanding how board decisions will affect your individual child(ren) in the classroom,” Wagner said in a social media post at the outset of the campaign.
“From classroom teachers to district leaders fleeing our district for Georgia, to the safety of our students, to equality of compensation for our staff, to fulfilling (individualized education plan) accommodations with certified and trained staff, to expanding business partnerships, to fiscal transparency, etc.”
Gaus, who left West Nassau in 2020, is the principal at Bronson Middle-High School in Levy County. Dew, a federal civil service employee at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, is a Yulee resident, graduate of Nassau schools and involved in community activities.
“As a parent to a current student in the Nassau County Public School System, I’m committed to maintaining the high academic achievements that our county is known for,” Dew said in a statement when he announced his candidacy.
“If elected, you can count on me to stay focused on solving the district’s biggest challenges, trying my best to improve the system, keep wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars to a minimum and to be fully committed to serving all of you, the public. If you’ve got questions, I’ll do my best to get you answers. I’m here to listen, solve and do everything I can to help resolve OUR issues.”