Nearly 70 residents spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, most of them to urge the Jacksonville City Council to let voters decide on a half-cent sales tax the School Board is requesting to help repair and replace Duval County’s aging schools.
The district says it needs to overhaul its facilities, and the half-cent increase in the local sales tax is projected to raise at least $1.3 billion dollars over 15 years. See presentations about the plan here.
The School Board is asking for a November special election, but critics, like Mayor Lenny Curry, say they’re worried that’ll be too costly.
During the three-hour public hearing Tuesday night, which included a few tense moments, some speakers like Arlington resident Darlene Miller said they weren’t buying that excuse.
Miller, who is a Duval public school parent, was interrupted by incoming Council President Scott Wilson.
“I am going to stop this right now. If this continues I am going to clear the chambers, okay?” he said.
But Miller continued, “There is no plan for the landing, but you spent $18 million” as the crowd cheered her on. “All the School Board is asking for is a special election.”
Holding the November 5 election is expected to cost $700,000 to $1.4 million, according to the district. That money would come from the Duval County School Board’s budget.
Sixty-eight people filled out speaker cards for the public hearing, and each was given three minutes to comment. Among those who voiced their support for the proposal were students, parents, and both local and state leaders, including state Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.
“It seems kind of strange to ask you all to let us vote,” said Gibson. “There should be no fear in what the people do, and there should be no fear in putting to question on the ballot for the people of your districts to decide what they think is best for their children and their grandchildren.”
Despite the broad public support, a few like John Turner voiced concerns about the proposed referendum. He said he’s it’s not that he doesn’t want to fix the school buildings.
“It’s just that I’m against the proposed method that will be used to pay for it as well as how the School Board will actually spend the additional funds,” he said. “Although the School Board claims the sales tax increase will fix old schools and building new ones, I must point out that is not a plan, but a goal.”
The City Council has complete discretion over “whether and when” to put the sales tax vote before voters, and the courts have no say in the matter, according to an opinion put out by the Jacksonville Office of General Council in May.
City Council member Reggie Gaffney is holding a public meeting with Superintendent Diane Greene at City Hall Wednesday at 1 p.m. to discuss the sales tax referendum.
Greene on Tuesday announced an alternative facilities master plan that has a similar price tag of nearly $2 billion.
Meanwhile, the referendum is scheduled to be considered by the finance and rules committees on June 18 before the full council is expected to vote on the proposal on June 25, the last council meeting of the fiscal year.
Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @abukaradan17