JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The move to let voters decide whether a new half-cent sales tax is needed to fix Duval County schools remains up in the air. But if the tax is eventually approved, the Duval County School Board will allow charter schools to get a bigger chunk of that money.
On Monday morning, the School Board approved a plan outlining how the money would be divided up between traditional and charter schools if a referendum for a half-cent sales tax to fund capital improvements for schools is ultimately put on the ballot.
Charter schools are public schools in that they offer free education, funded by taxpayers. Per-student funds are distributed equally to both. The difference is charters are managed privately and, in some cases, run as for-profit businesses.
Charter schools sometimes lease rather than own the buildings in which they operate. For some, that has been a bone of contention. The concern is spending tax dollars on leased space that can't be recouped should the charter school close. In the past, many school board members felt it was unfair charter schools would get money for upgrades when their buildings are not as old as traditional schools. The oldest charter school in Duval County was built 22 years ago, while the oldest traditional school is more than 100 years old.
In a 4-3 vote during a meeting Monday morning, the School Board approved the superintendent's recommendations, which included that all schools in the district -- traditional and charter -- get $5 per square foot for security enhancements, plus charter schools would get money based on need and ownership status.
The School Board discussed the plan for nearly three hours before taking a vote. School Board Chairwoman Lori Hershey said it was important for School Board members to discuss the recommendation in length and have a plan before the full Jacksonville City Council meeting Tuesday evening.
"There was a lot of consensus with the board. We wanted to send a signal that, yes, we do have a plan," Hershey said. "If you listen to the conversation around the table, there was also a desire by the majority of board members to continue the conversation and actually have a workshop to work things out."
The City Council has been debating back and forth about whether to put the referendum on the ballot for voters to decide this year or next year. There is also a move to withdraw it completely and bring up the referendum proposal at a later date. That is expected to be decided at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
City Councilman Matt Carlucci has been pushing to let voters decide on the matter this year. Now, after meeting with supervisor of elections, he is saying 2020 might be better.
"We need some certainty here and we need to move this thing along," Carlucci said Monday. "As much as I wanted an early vote, reality did not lend itself to that."