The Clay County Commission Tuesday rejected placing a half-cent sales tax for school funding on the ballot this year, according to WJCT-News partner The Florida Times Union.
At the same time, dozens turned out Tuesday at an NAACP community forum in Jacksonville to urge the incoming City Council to put a similar half-cent sales tax before voters this November.
The outgoing council last month punted the decision after some members raised concerns about the cost and execution of the Duval school district’s plan, which is projected to raise at least $1.3 billion over 15 years.
The Tuesday night forum was attended by students, parents, as well as Jacksonville state Rep. Tracie Davis and Sen. Audrey Gibson.
Terry Brady, the president of Duval Teachers United, said at the meeting there is no issue in Jacksonville more important than the half cent sales tax.
“I need you to passionately stand with me and hold individuals accountable on the City Council to vote out our bill in the affirmative, to put it on the ballot, and let’s start putting signs up in our yard,” she said. “Get people registered to vote and do what’s right for the children of Duval County.”
The plan has broad public support, with about 75% of Duval registered voters supporting the sales tax, according to a recent University of North Florida Poll. But it also has detractors who say too many questions remain about how the school district would spend the sales tax revenue.
“I believe the plan is a poorly executed, really good idea,” said Councilman Greg Anderson, who chairs the Finance Committee, which wants to push the vote to 2020. “And I think we need more time.”
He is joined by the majority of the City Council, along with Mayor Lenny Curry who said in a video statement last month he’d back the plan if it’s “financially prudent and well thought out.” Curry said he is in favor of putting the question before voters next year.
The Clay County Commission also felt the school board was moving too fast and unanimously voted to change the referendum date to 2020.
Duval Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene said addressing her district’s repair and replacement needs would improve neighborhood property values, increase teacher retention and help parents choose public education.
“It is not the teacher they see first. It is not the principal they see first. It is the facility they see first,” she said. “And they make a determination about how well education is happening in that facility just based on the look of the facility.”
The district says it needs nearly $2 billion dollars to overhaul its aging facilities. Other school districts in Florida, including St. Johns County, have passed similar referenda to fund schools.
School Board Chairwoman Lori Hersey and Greene are scheduled to meet with Curry on Friday about the sales tax.