District proposes sales tax to pay for repairing, replacing schools

Nearly $2B plan will renovate & consolidate current schools

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter, Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Duval County School Board started a discussion Tuesday on how the district will pay for the nearly $2 billion master facility plan that involves building new schools as well as renovating and consolidating current schools.

The only option the school board discussed at a workshop was a half-cent sales tax, but it was just the start of the discussion as the board expects to continue talking funding possibilities in May.

Dr. Diana Greene, the school superintendent, provided board members with two resolutions from other Florida school districts as examples. Greene mentioned Hillsborough and Alachua counties, which sought referendums for a half-cent sales tax.

Greene said every other opportunity for revenue has been utilized. She reminded the board of the two types of referendums school districts can consider: A surtax, or half-cent sales tax, which can only be used for capital expenses, or a millage increase of up to one mil for operating expenses.

In recent weeks, there have been discussions about the millage increase, but at Tuesday afternoon’s board workshop, only the sales tax was pursued.

If the board approves the sales tax option, it would also look into an independent citizens committee that would monitor the revenue and hold the district accountable for the money raised from the sales tax.

Board members seemed to support the idea of moving forward with further conversation on the possibility of a half-cent sales tax but want to proceed with caution.

Board member Elizabeth Andersen said she doesn’t want to rush this process or leave the community feeling it was rushed.

Board member Charlotte Joyce echoed Andersen's opinion and said she wants to ensure taxpayers feel the district has credibility and that there’s transparency in everything it's doing.

If the board ultimately decides on the sales tax option for funding the plan to improve the city’s schools, it will also have to decide if charter schools will be included in the revenue.

Greene recommended charter schools be included, but board member Ashley Smith Juarez expressed concerns. 

Smith Juarez said charter schools are technically the district’s schools and the district’s partners, but noted most charter schools are on private property, saying, “We’re now talking about raising public revenue to pay for private property."

Once the board forms a resolution, the City Council will have to approve it before it can go on the ballot. The final resolution is expected April 30, and the board plans to vote May 7.

The issue could go to a ballot and be voted on Nov. 5 in a special election.

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