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To Promote Diversity, Tuition Reimbursement May Be Offered To Jacksonville City Employees

City of Jacksonville

A Jacksonville Councilman wants to reopen a tuition-reimbursement program to all city employees. The benefit wasn’t always limited to police and firefighters, as it is today.

Garrett Dennis, chairman of the city’s Finance Committee, has been collecting city-employee demographic statistics. Because of a measure he helped pass last year, departments must report the metrics as part of the budget process.

Dennis said now it’s clear the city isn’t doing enough to diversify its workforce, so he’s proposing giving employees a leg up to go to college.

“I’m a product of the city of Jacksonville tuition reimbursement. When I joined the Supervisor of Elections Office in 2001, I was halfway completed with my master’s degree, and I used the city tuition reimbursement to finish my master’s degree,” he said. “Using those dollars, I had to commit to staying with the city for several years.”

Dennis, who’s African-American, credits that program for paving the way for others like him.

He said it was limited to police and firefighters during the Great Recession. Now, he’s proposing $200,000 to reopen it to all city employees.

“You may have a qualified person that will say, ‘Listen, I will work for the city. I will take less pay with this benefit,’” he said. “So, it’s a tool, and you have to use every tool in the toolbox to get the most qualified, diverse workforce in the city.”

Dennis’ district covers much of the so-called New Town Success Zone, a mostly black neighborhood that’s been targeted for economic revitalization and public health improvements, modeled after New York’s Harlem Children’s Zone.

Dennis said he intends to file his budget amendment Friday.

Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.