Our Chairman, Pat Ryan first saw the Lack of Accountability in the Okaloosa School District in 2016, when then-Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson demoted her 2016 challenger, Marline Van Dyke, to a made up job at the District level as a “Grant Writer,” a position for which Mrs. Van Dyke had no experience and was not qualified. Pat appeared before the Okaloosa School Board, which had to approve the move, and warned them that they were potentially violating Mrs. Van Dyke’s First Amendment rights. The School Board refused to task their attorney with reviewing relevant case law and approved the move. Mrs. Van Dyke subsequently sued the district, and she settled the case in 2020. The total amount of the settlement and legal fees ran into six figures, much of which was paid by taxpayer dollars.
Okaloosa Taxpayers dramatically saw the need for Improved Accountability during a horrific child abuse scandal in the Okaloosa School District which first came to light in 2017.
Pat Ryan reviewed hours of School Board meetings and hundreds of documents. He submitted a 16-page complaint about Mrs. Jackson’s conduct to the Florida Department of Education and another to the Florida Auditor General. The scandal eventually led to Governor Ron DeSantis suspending the Superintendent of Schools, Mary Beth Jackson, in January, 2019. Four district employees were charged with felonies. Three pled to reduced charges and received probation and one was found guilty and sentenced to seven years incarceration.
Mrs. Jackson appeared before a Suspension Hearing in the Florida Senate, but before the full Senate could vote on whether to permanently remove her from office or reinstate her, Governor DeSantis revoked the suspension, reinstated her and allowed her to resign. That move entitled her to back pay, protected her retirement and benefits and may eventually cost the taxpayers of Okaloosa over Half a Million $$ in legal fees and other expenses. Mrs. Jackson sued the Okaloosa School District for her legal fees, and the case is pending in District Court in Pensacola.
Throughout the scandal and to this day, no member of the Okaloosa School Board has ever publicly criticized the former Superintendent. The Board never even debated a motion to censure or express No Confidence in the former Superintendent. Our School Board did Nothing to stand up for employees, teachers, staff, students and parents. Because the Okaloosa Superintendent is elected, he or she can only be removed for poor performance by the Governor and the Florida Senate. Accountability cannot be enforced locally, but the School Board CAN petition the Governor to act. Instead, our Board sat on their hands and did nothing.
We began our push for Improved Accountability in the Spring, 2019 by calling for a referendum in Okaloosa, IAW the Florida Constitution, on whether to continue to elect or switch to hiring the Superintendent of Schools. Hiring a professional Superintendent vice electing a politician-Superintendent means Accountability can be enforced locally, as our School Board could then fire a poorly performing Superintendent. We felt that allowing the voters to decide on top down reform would provide the best chance to Improve Accountability in the shortest time frame. Despite a majority of School Board members making statements supporting allowing voters to decide the issue in a referendum, politics intervened and no Board member would make a motion to advance such a referendum.
Instead, the Okaloosa School Board placed a referendum on the November, 2020 ballot asking for a Sales Tax increase to fund infrastructure improvement. Even though we agreed infrastructure was in poor condition due to the Board’s neglect over the last several years, we felt their plan to spend the over Half a Billion Tax $$ was inadequate. Furthermore, they never did anything to Improve Accountability, and the citizens’ group and politicians promoting the referendum repeatedly lied to voters about numerous related issues, so we opposed the Tax Increase because we felt the money would be poorly spent. Nonetheless, the referendum passed, but over 50,000 voters (45%) voted Against the tax increase, which told us there are many Okaloosa residents dissatisfied with how our School District is run.
Prior to the Sales Tax Referendum, Florida Law required the School District to undergo a Performance Audit. The district failed to Meet Standards in all six Task Areas reviewed by the Audit. Despite this, two School Board members publicly called the Audit results “Excellent.” Compared to other Florida School Districts, the results were dismal. As this was yet another example of the appalling Lack of Accountability, we decided to start Truth4ok.com so Okaloosa citizens could see first hand the Lack of Accountability with their Tax $$. For more, please see https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3975976595751540&id=2684302931585586 and Truth4ok.com/Audit.