School Board's request to seek outside legal help denied

By Kelly Wiley - I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Can the Duval County School Board seek outside legal help in its efforts to put a sales tax referendum on the ballot? Not according to Jason Gabriel, an attorney with the city’s Office of General Counsel.

Gabriel met Wednesday with School Board Chair Lori Hershey to discuss the ongoing back-and-forth between the School Board and city, which have been at odds over whether voters should decide on a half-cent sales tax to raise funds to overhaul Jacksonville’s aging schools.

In an email Thursday, school district spokesperson Tracy Pierce characterized the discussion between the pair as a “collaborative two-hour meeting,” but noted that Gabriel denied Hershey’s request to hire an attorney to represent the School Board’s interests.

“The district and School Board remain committed to the goal of giving voters the opportunity to decide what kind of schools we want to provide for children in our community,” Pierce said.

At the center of the issue is the state of Jacksonville’s schools. Over the years, some have fallen into disrepair, leaving students and teachers surrounded by leaks, crumbling walls and busted air conditioners, among other issues. The district said it spends $500,000 a month on maintenance.

As part of the school district’s $1.9 billion master facilities plan, the School Board wants to raise money to renovate and replace schools. The proposed half-cent sales tax would help pay for some of that work.

In Gabriel’s opinion, putting a sales tax referendum on the ballot would require a vote from and the support of the Jacksonville City Council. But the School Board believes the law isn’t clear on the matter and that an outside attorney could help clear things up once and for all.

Hershey is expected to brief fellow board members on the details of her discussion with Gabriel when the School Board holds its next scheduled meeting on Tuesday.

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