After Voters Approve Sales Tax, Duval School District Gets To Work

Nov 9, 2020

Duval County voters last week approved a half-cent sales tax to improve Jacksonville’s public schools, and work is already underway among the district's administration to implement the change.

This Tuesday, Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) will  present plans to the school board on the projects that will be funded by the tax.

“They are establishing the Independent Citizens Oversite Committee," said DCPS Superintendent Diana Greene on WJCT News' First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross Monday.

The sales tax, which passed with 67.34% support, is expected to raise nearly $2 billion over the next 15 years.

Credit Duval County Supervisor of Elections

The committee will be presented projects that are expected to begin in Phase 1.

“We made a commitment that safety and security was a priority and that we will touch all schools within the first three years, so that those projects will be coming out much quicker than the projects such as replacing a school or adding a new footprint,” Greene said.

The superintendent said a rough estimate for the safety and security upgrades is close to $80 million, which will be for physical improvements such as classroom door locks and fencing. It does not include money for personnel.

Once the district moves into the remodeling and rebuilding phase, Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary is expected to be the first school that will be rebuilt.

“That would be the first school that we would develop the prototype to rebuild a brand new K-5 elementary school," Greene said.

At the high school level, one of the biggest issues is extensive use of portables instead of permanent classrooms.  The goal is replace them with brick-and-mortar expansions.

“Sandalwood High School, our largest high school, has close to 40 portables,” Greene said. Mandarin High School has 32.

The district is also planning to modernize Kirby-Smith Middle School while preserving its architectural history.

Greene said DCPS has the oldest buildings of any school district in the state of Florida, at an average of 44 years.

“Annie Morgan [Elementary School] is probably one of our oldest schools in Duval County, over 120 years," she said.

The superintendent also provided an update on how the district is handling COVID-19. She said 75% of students are now back in classrooms.

“Probably later this week, there will be a new, enhanced dashboard for our families to continue to check to see where schools are as it relates to COVID-19 positive,” Greene said, a change to its current dashboard, which relied on state confirmation before cases could be recorded. She reiterated the need for students, staff and families to continue to wear masks and continue with other preventative steps to slow the spread of the virus.

The current dashboard doesn't provide a running count of the total number of cases in the district, but by adding the number of cases reported in each individual school since August 20, the total was 395 at the time of this story's publication.

Greene wrapped up the interview on a positive note.

“I just have to commend our educators, our teachers, our paraprofessionals, our school-based administrators, everyone who make sure that students are picked up from home to get to school and delivered back home. They're doing a phenomenal job of still focusing on our main mission, which is teaching and learning," she said.

To hear the entire interview with Superintendent Diana Greene, listen to Monday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross. The show also encores at 8 p.m. on WJCT News 89.9.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.