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Duval School Board votes 6-1 to put property tax onto August ballot

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Claire Heddles
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WJCT News
The Duval County School Board voted Tuesday, March 1, 2022, to put a property tax increase referendum on the August primary ballot. Charlotte Joyce was the sole no vote.

The Duval County School Board is again asking voters to pitch in for public schools.

Board members voted 6-1 Tuesday to put a property tax increase on voters' August ballot. Board member Charlotte Joyce was the sole no vote.

Former School Board chair Elizabeth Andersen emphasized Tuesday that the board's vote does not increase any taxes yet.

"It will not result in an increase in anyone's taxes today," Andersen said. "But what it will do is allow our community to come together in the most democratic way. We will learn, we will make an informed decision together."

The School Board’s vote comes just two months after a half-cent sales tax for school infrastructure took effect. Superintendent Diana Greene says the district is restricted how it can use the sales tax funds, only for capital projects.

The proposed property tax hike would go toward increasing teacher pay and funding arts and athletics programs. Greene says a primary goal is to retain veteran teachers.

“We are losing our veteran teachers,” Greene said. “We are losing the teachers who have the most experience to impact student achievement. When we look at Duval ranked across the state, we are ranked 58 out of 69 for average teacher experience.”

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Duval Schools
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Screen capture
A portion of the presentation Dr. Diana Greene gave to school board members supporting the millage increase.

A 1-mill increase means adding one additional dollar per $1,000 of taxable property value. So for a Duval County home with a taxable value (after the homestead exemption) of $150,000, the owner’s school-tax bill would rise from roughly $872 a year to roughly $1,021.

Currently, the millage rate for schools is about 5.8. Under the proposal it would jump to 6.8.

In pitching the plan to voters, the school district has emphasized that the proposed rate is still less than what it was a decade ago because of state-mandated drops in the millage rate.

The increase would bring in an estimated $81 million a year, if voters approve it. The School Board would have to come back to voters every four years to keep the tax in place.

The funds could be used for increasing salaries of anyone employed by the school district, except board members, superintendent or executive staff.

Most janitorial, food service and bus drivers are contractors, according to district spokesperson Tracy Pierce, and the proposal does not include funds for increasing contractor pay.

Public feedback was mixed during Tuesday’s meeting, with some residents and one school board member, Charlotte Joyce, calling on the district to reallocate funds from elsewhere in the budget instead to increase teacher pay.

Joyce said she’s also skeptical the increased pay will improve employee retention. Duval Schools currently has more than 1,000 staff vacancies.

“There are things that we can talk about as a board that’s innovative, but I think throwing money on top —that's not actually going to get to the root of this problem,” Joyce said.

Multiple teachers, and Jacksonville Public Education Fund representatives, said Tuesday that raises would keep experienced teachers in the classroom.

At least four other Florida school districts have passed millage increases to support teacher pay, including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Broward and Pinellas counties.

Duval schools has launched a website to try to educate the public about the plan and persuade people to vote yes on the increase in August.

City Council will now be responsible for putting the referendum on the ballot. The district's attorney told the board Tuesday his interpretation of the law is that City Council doesn't have the option to shoot down the proposal.

The final language of the proposal will be submitted to the election supervisor's office by June, for voters to weigh in on the measure Aug. 23.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.