City Council Okays Half-Cent Sales Tax Referendum For Duval School Improvements

Apr 14, 2020

Voters in Jacksonville will be able to decide whether to allow a half-cent sales tax to improve the infrastructure and safety of Duval County schools this November.

The referendum passed a vote by the City Council 18-1, with Councilman Rory Diamond being the lone ‘no’ vote.

Despite getting the majority of votes in support of the bill, several council members questioned its implementation if passed.

“I’m going to support this tonight to send it to the voters, but I will not support it as a taxpayer,” Councilman Aaron Bowman said.

The Duval County School District estimates the tax will collect around $1.26 billion over 15 years, but Bowman believes based on records he’s received from auditors, the tax could potentially collect twice as much.  

“I just don't have confidence that they have put together a good plan, a plan that meets the needs of the people,” Bowman said.

Councilman Michael Boylan said many of his constituents have questioned the school board’s ability to manage the projects.

“If we're talking about building schools for the next generation, do we need the traditional brick and mortar that we have today?” Boylan said. “I don't see that addressed in the plan.”

Boylan suggested coming up with an oversight committee when finding contractors to work on projects.

The vote comes after a legal battle between the school district and the city. Last year the school board filed a lawsuit against the city in September for delaying the referendum.

Councilman Reggie Gaffney said now that it will be on the ballot in November, he hopes this can open a dialogue with the City Council.

“What I'm hoping to have happen after this meeting, [is] some of us will reach out to the school board,” Gaffney said. “We will form some kind of task force committee so we can talk about the nuts and bolts. But trust me, if you live on the Northside of town, you hear this every day – ‘what we going to do about the schools on the Northside of town?”

Councilman Al Ferraro said the timing of the referendum is “absolutely horrible.”

“Right now what they're doing is saying, ‘Let's throw some money at something that wasn't working and just throw more money at it,’” Ferraro said.

But Councilman Matt Carlucci disagreed with the arguments that there was no plan from the school district.

Carlucci said despite there being many “crumbling schools” in the district, it still maintains some of the top students in the state.

“They're trying hard. They just need some help and we gave it to them tonight,” Carlucci said.  

The City Council also approved seven new JEA Board members to replace the old board, which resigned from their positions in February.

Five of the seven appointees – John Baker II, Joseph DiSalvo, Robert Stein, Tom VanOsdol, and Martha Lanahan – were voted in unanimously.

Board member A. Zachary Faison Jr. was voted in 18-1, with the lone ‘no’ vote coming from Councilwoman Brenda Priestly-Jackson. Leon Haley Jr. was voted in 16-3, with the three ‘no’ votes coming from Priestly-Jackson, Councilwoman Randy DeFoor, and Councilman Rory Diamond.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.