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Duval School District Lobbying State For Funding, Local Control

Lucélia Ribeiro

The Duval County School district is lobbying the state for funding and local control during Florida's legislative session now underway.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti laid out the district's priorities Tuesday, saying the district needs more money for capital projects, like building maintenance and upgrades.

“It’s important to understand that 60 percent of our schools are 50 years or older,” he said. “We have to put more money into just making sure that they continue to be safe and not doing upgrades and renovations.”

Credit Duval County Public Schools

Nearly a decade ago, the legislature reduced the maximum local capital-tax districts are allowed to levy by 25 percent.  Vitti said he wants to restore the previous rate.

“That would generate roughly $15 million in the district,” he said.

The dollars are also allowed to be used on technology, which Vitti said is needed. The school board has been discussing taking out a $52 million federal bondto keep up with students’ technological needs, like upgrading classroom laptops.

As our partner stationWFSU reports, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is recommending raising the tax cap if the money can be shared with charter schools, which are public schools run by private companies.

“As a school district we do not select principals of charter schools, teachers  programs or curriculum,” Vitti said.

Vitti’s other priorities are charters’ grades, graduation rates and test scores to not be included in the district's data.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

A higher percentage of Duval’s charters have D and F grades than traditional schools.

“Charter schools were designed to be autonomous from school districts so the question is ‘Why is their performance included in our overall performance as a district?’ “ Vitti said.

Vitti said he received verbal support from former Duval School Board member and current Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, as well as Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

And with students allowed to cross county lines and district boundaries to attend any Florida school that has room, Vitti said it’s important local districts are allowed to  determine if schools have space.  

He said he doesn’t want the legislature to mandate a district's use of the state’s method called Florida Inventory of School Houses. It counts classrooms used solely for art classes or computer labs as empty space.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

“It would imply there is more space available than there actually is,” Vitti said.

He said local control could come in handy if other proposals gain traction.

“In the future there is conversation that charter schools could occupy space that is not used or classroom seats that are not used in school district buildings,” Vitti said.

While Florida Governor Rick Scott is proposing increasing education funding, the House is opposed to any tax increases.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.   

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.