Supporters continue push for Duval school tax referendum

Effort appears to have stalled in Jacksonville City Hall

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An effort to place a referendum for a half-cent sales tax on a November ballot in Duval County has stalled in Jacksonville City Hall, but the push from supporters continues.

In May, the Duval County School Board approved a resolution seeking a special election in November, which would put the decision on the half-cent sales tax increase in the hands of the voters. The tax would help pay for improvements to aging public schools.

Dr. Diana Greene, the Duval County school superintendent, spoke Tuesday during a meeting of about 100 people who gathered at Florida State College at Jacksonville downtown for a meeting organized by the NAACP. The goal of the civil rights organization and school district leaders was to educate people about the state of education facilities in Duval County.

The oldest education facilities in the state have an average age of 44 years. 

"One of the good things that has come out of the delay in this process for us has been the continued community engagement and community conversation," said school board Chair Lori Hershey. "I think the more opportunities we have to talk to people, the more opportunities we have to inform the community"

While Hershey and Greene presented the argument for replacing, consolidating and repairing the old school buildings, the crowd seemed to support the notion. Hershey believes support outside the board meetings could be key.

"This is a benefit to every City Council person's district. It's a benefit to everybody and every school district and every school in every district to benefit from this," Hershey said. "This is an opportunity for us to really take ownership in our schools and truly be a part of that shared decision-making process and making sure that Duval County has the best education system."

People want to ensure any money raised in a new tax for schools will be spent wisely. Dante Jennings, with the Jacksonville Urban League, said he's pushing to get the referendum on the November ballot.

"One of our initiatives has been to go to the City Council meetings and really show that force," Jennings said. "I think there is strength in numbers and showing the collective is really behind this."

Jennings said he wants to make sure the board maintains consistency and continues to speak for the children in the community, whom the new revenue would help. He said he trusts the school district leaders and their plan.

On Tuesday night, commissioners in Clay County voted against a proposed half-cent sales tax resolution that would have appeared on a ballot in 2019. It would have funded public school improvements in Clay County. Commissioners requested that an agreement be reached for the referendum to be placed on the 2020 general election ballot.

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