The Duval County School Board’s legislative committee, made up of four board members, met this week to set the district’s legislative platform.
The group chose five requests to make of state lawmakers. The conversation extended to strategy in making the requests, as some of them are repeat asks that previously haven’t gained traction.
For instance, the board wants the legislature to reverse a nearly decade-old 25 percent reduction in the cap on the capital outlay tax that pays for technology and school building along with maintenance projects.
Board members discussed why this year that’s more important than ever, citing recent events. Board member Becki Couch said she thinks it will help lawmakers understand what the extra dollars would be used for.
“You can use the hurricanes last year as an example of why capital funding is so important to us or even the massacre on February 14, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas to point to why we need these funds to make our buildings safer,” Couch said.
Couch, the member often leading lobbying efforts for the board, said over her last seven years serving she’s learned it’s best to keep the requests short and to the point.
There are also older needs more capital outlay funding would address. Duval schools have backlog of needed fixes that total more than $130 million.
“We need to build two new schools, a K-8 in Oceanway and a K-8 in the town center area, but we don’t have the revenue to do it so how do you maintain existing schools and build new without additional revenue?” board member Warren Jones said.
- Read more: Duval’s Capital Outlay Funding Woes
Other legislative requests are also focused on more funding.
School Safety and Security
School districts have a slew of new safety and mental health requirements enacted after February’s South Florida school shooting, including officers or trained guards at all schools and hardening buildings.
Some funding for the new requirements is non-recurring. “We would ask that, that continue to be put into the budget,” Couch said.
- Read more: Duval’s Armed Guard Plan
The committee also discussed asking for more flexibility with the school safety dollars.
The board wants more funding in part to pay teachers more. Most of this year’s per-student increase was earmarked for mental health and safety measures. That left less than a dollar of the average $100 per-student increase for everyday costs, like teacher pay.
“This amount does not even cover our average teacher’s salary plus benefits,” Superintendent Patricia Willis said before Governor Rick Scott signed the budget.
Couch said it’s been harder to keep up with teacher pay increases since the state switched to a performance pay scale.
- Read more: Duval Teachers Get Retroactive Raises
She said the school board wants the state to look at average teacher pay nationally, adjust it for cost of living and set that as a minimum standard.
The board also wants the state to address a new state rule that raises the bar on tests students can take to graduate to replace failed state test scores. The substitute scores are called concordant scores.
The state education board changed the rule after the Duval County School Board and Jacksonville City Council passed resolutions against the changes, saying they would lower Duval’s graduation rate and therefore negatively impact the economy.
Committee members said the state board voiced the need to change the rules after a sweeping education bill passed two years ago required a study of the replacement tests and they were determined to be too easy.
Board member Lori Hershey asked her committee colleagues how to approach legislature about the scores without it seeming like the district doesn’t want to hold students to a high enough standard.
Couch said maybe there should be a different option for students getting trade certifications, since the new requirements are meant to make students college-ready, despite the state tests they’re replacing being taken by tenth-graders. She said there are students getting industry certifications who wouldn’t be getting a diploma.
“What I would say our board is going to work on is something to maybe allow for an option of a diploma for the students who want to go into the workforce and not necessarily just college,” she said.
The new rule will impact this year’s incoming freshmen.
Committee members also say they want lawmakers to tweak a measure passed last year allowing bullied students to use a voucher for rides to another school, or toward a private school tuition.
- Read more: School Voucher Expansion Sparks Fiery Debate
The committee agreed the bill needs “clean up,” saying it’s too easy to get a voucher without having much documentation.
They also say there’s no proof private schools have fewer bullies.
“There deserves to be some form of accountability to make sure that we’re giving kids good options when they go on vouchers,” Couch said.
Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.