School Board wants outside counsel to weigh in on sales tax fight

Board plans to ask General Counsel to step back, allow second opinion

By Kelly Wiley - I-TEAM reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With students and teachers set to return to school in just a few weeks, the Duval County School Board is not giving up the fight for a half-cent sales tax to fix the district's aging buildings.

The board said it spend a half-million dollars of taxpayer money each month to repair leaking roofs, electrical issues, broken air conditions units and other problems around the district.

"At this point, it’s not about answering questions anymore -- it’s about doing what’s right for children," School Board chairwoman Lori Hershey said.

The Duval County School Board proposed the half-cent sales tax to help pay for an estimated $1.9 billion in repairs and renovations it said are desperately needed in the district. Some schools even need to be replaced outright.

A memo from the Jacksonville Office of General Counsel explained that the Jacksonville City Council has discretion as to whether and when to place that sales tax question on the ballot for voters.

But the City Council has deferred a vote that would allow the issue to be placed on a ballot this November for taxpayers to decide on.

"There’s been no decisive action, and I think that’s where we have had an issue understanding how to move forward," School Board member Ashley Smith-Juarez said.

The board believes there is confusion over the role of the City Council as defined in the statute that calls for City Council to put the referendum on the ballot.

Hershey plans to meet with the General Counsel on Wednesday to raise the question of whether the attorney should recuse himself and allow outside counsel to weigh in instead.

"So the next step at this particular point is considering what options we have looking for outside counsel," Hershey said. "But that conversation hasn’t started. I have a meeting with Jason Gabriel on Wednesday and we will see how this conversation goes."

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