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Public Hearing On Duval School Sales Tax Referendum Set For Tuesday

Duval County School District

The Jacksonville City Council is holding a hearing Tuesday on whether to allow the public to vote on a half-cent sales tax increase to help repair and replace the Duval County School District’s aging school buildings.

Related: Duval School Board Proposes Sales Tax To Repair And Replace Aging Schools

Latrice Carmichael’s son attends Northwest Jacksonville’s Young Men’s and Women’s Leadership Academy at Eugene Butler Middle School. She said some of the district’s buildings are simply not conducive to learning.

“Students should not be going to school in conditions that we would not, as adults, want to work in — air conditioner not working, rodents in the schools, roaches in the schools,” she said. “It’s just not fair.”

The School Board is asking the City Council to allow for a special election in November.

About 65 percent of the buildings are more than 50 years old, the district doesn’t have the means to provide adequate security, and the schools’ technology infrastructure needs to be modernized, according to the bill’s legislative fact sheet.

“How can you expect kids to learn in an environment where they’re not comfortable?” added Carmichael, who, along with seven other parents, recently graduated from the Jacksonville Public Education Fund’s Parents Who Lead Program. They’re now working to win public support for the referendum.    

Critics like Mayor Lenny Curry say holding a November special election is too costly. According to the bill summary, the election is expected to cost between $700,000 to $1.4 million. That money would come from the Duval County School Board budget.

Related: Mayor Says He’s Against Holding A November Referendum For A Proposed School Tax Hike

But proponents point out holding the November 5 election is a much cheaper alternative.

“We’re spending currently a half-million dollars or more a month in maintenance repairs that don’t solve anything,” said School Board Chairwoman Lori Hershey in an interview with WJCT News last month. “They’re just Band Aid repairs to maintenance issues because we have such a large backlog.

For instance, the referendum would allow the district to replace worn-out air conditioning systems rather than repair them. The district would also be able to better address information technology needs and make schools safer, Hershey added.  

The district says it needs nearly $2 billion to overhaul old facilities. A half-cent increase in the sales tax is projected to raise at least $1.3 billion over the course of 15 years.

Sales tax in Duval County is currently 7 cents, and the district’s request would bring that up to 7.5 cents. Other school districts in Florida, including St. Johns County, have held similar referenda to fund schools.

Tuesday’s Council meeting starts at 5 p.m. at City Hall Downtown.

The bill will then be considered by the finance and rules committees on June 18 before the full council is expected to vote on the proposal on June 25, the last council meeting of this fiscal year.

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, or on Twitter at @abukaradan17