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Jacksonville City Council and School Board Lock Horns Over Half-Cent Sales Tax Referendum

Jacksonville City Hall
Steven Martin

The Jacksonville City Council and the Duval County Public Schools Board Wednesday met to discuss whether to put a half cent sales tax referendum before voters this year.  

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

The issue council members brought up the most in the three hour meeting was how to share the revenue that would be generated with charter schools. 

Council Vice President Tommy Hazouri, who previously served on the Duval County Public Schools Board, said he supports the referendum, but wants to see some concession from the board.

“The elephant in the room is charter schools,” he said. “What are ya’ll willing to concede in that tax for the charters besides safety and security?” 

Duval School Superintendent Diana Greene said her maintenance plan takes into account that 90% of charters are newer than Jacksonville’s traditional public schools. 

“Our youngest school is Waterleaf elementary. The other charters schools, and we go can through that document, are much younger,” she said. “And we are distributing dollars, if the school district receives this referendum, is by need, based on the need of our number one guiding principal: safety and security.” 

Still, Greene said charter schools can apply for funding using the same criteria. 

Councilman Rory Diamond invited KIPP Jacksonville Executive Director Jennifer Brown to give the charter school perspective, and she said the funding should follow students.

But Greene said, if the district funds schools purely based on the size of the student body, Greenland Pines and Waterleaf would both receive about $12 million, even though Greenland Pines needs north of $13 million in maintenance, while Waterleaf needs a little less than $1 million.  

Another issue brought up by Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber is what she said is the board’s failure to provide a timeline of when schools would be repaired. 

“I’ve been repeatedly told by the school board there is no timeline. It doesn’t exist,” she said. “And once they get the money, that’s when we’ll get the timeline.” 

Cumber said she’d like to get a timeline of fiscal years going out for 10 years. 

School board member Elizabeth Andersen said it’s difficult to provide specific dates without a funding source. 

“We’ve had master plans sit on shelves and collect dust,” she said. “So without revenue, these plans don’t happen.”

Related: Outgoing Council Declines Push To Approve A 2019 Sales Tax Vote For Duval Schools

The proposal to hold a voter referendum on the half-cent sales tax returns to the City Council’s Finance and Rules committees next week.

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

Abukar Adan is a former WJCT reporter who left the station for other pursuits in August 2019.