Superintendent: Duval County needs $1 billion for schools

Vitti: Schools don't have enough money for updates, repairs to old buildings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County's school buildings are some of the oldest in the state and the county has brought in less property tax money over the last few years.

Those factors combined have left the school district looking for ways to generate more money for repairs, replacements and upgrades that the superintendent says are much-needed.

The price tag for those repairs could total almost $1 billion, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

He said the money is needed because the school district has more than $103 million in backlogged maintenance work that needs to be done.

Combine that with aging schools that will continue to need repairs and the need for technology upgrades, and the numbers quickly add up, Vitti said.

But right now, there’s no revenue stream to make it happen.

“Our needs cannot be met with the current flow of revenue that we are receiving,” Vitti said. “Especially since that has been declining over the years, so at some point in the near future, we have to think about a new revenue stream to deal with the backlog of maintenance issues.”

The unfunded repair costs include $3.8 million at Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology, $3.3 million at Sandalwood High, $3.3 million at Westside High and $3.1 million at Mandarin High. That totals more than $13 million.

Those schools have the highest repair costs, but across the district, a lot of aging schools need work, Vitti said.

He said there are three options to increase the revenue stream: a sales tax increase, a millage rate increase, or low-interest bonds.

Vitti said a lot of that money would go to building new or replacement schools, some of which are needed because of consolidation of under-enrolled schools. Those construction costs total about $535 million.

“When children go to an older building that is run down, it speaks indirectly to children,” Vitti said. “It speaks indirectly when they see in other neighborhoods and in other areas brand-new buildings. It's only natural to think, 'Are we inferior to them?' or 'Does someone have lower expectations for us?'”

Vitti said that the state doesn’t like districts building new schools when they have open seats in the district. But Vitti said that in Duval County many of the open seats are in urban core schools, not in the high-growth areas that are quickly becoming overcrowded.

He said adding seats in those areas and high-demand areas would cost about $140 million alone.

“I think when you look at the sales tax or a mill increase, it certainly injects revenue into our budget, but I don't know if that's a long-term approach,” Vitti said. “I think the bond would allow us to put out our minor and major maintenance backlog while simultaneously building newer buildings and wings in high-demand areas.”

Vitti said this is only the beginning of the conversation about the short-term and long-term funding options. He said discussions will continue with the district, and he hopes to have the community involved as things progress as well.