City leaders, school board members rally behind half-cent sales tax to fix schools

Half-cent tax could mean an additional $1.2 billion for school repairs, new construction over the 15 years

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Instead of city leaders and school board members bad mouthing each other and threating lawsuits, it now seems all sides are somewhat in agreement when it comes to a new half-cent sales tax to fix Duval County’s dilapidated schools.

“I felt our community has been on board since we brought this issue to the City Council,” Duval County Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said during an interview with News4Jax on Thursday.

The Jacksonville City Council introduced legislation this week to put the half-cent tax proposal on the November ballot that would let voters decide the future of Duval County schools, though it has not been approved yet.

City Council will still debate the issue. Now, it appears Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and others opposed last year to the tax are supporting it.

Ribault High School is one school that would benefit from the new tax. DCPS would actually build a new school, eventually tearing down the existing structure. It is just one of the first projects that would take place but there are others as well.

Andrew Jackson High school is 92 years old and has seen better days. Still, parents are proud to send their kids there.

“It’s an amazing school. But as far as upgrades, I live in an older house you can always renovate something that is old,” said parent Nichole Dunbar.

Schools Like Andrew Jackson may take longer to see improvement because it was recently renovated. But if the tax passes it would receive about $14 million for a maintenance upgrade.

It is a school Like Smart Pope Livingston Elementary School in Northwest Jacksonville that has been neglected in the past that would receive attention first with a $29.2 million construction project.

Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson said the sales tax measure will be on the ballot in November.

“I think the moment of celebration was actually Judge Wilksonson’s order on January 15, 2020. It was in that order that he basically determined that the Duval County School Board is a separate constitutionally created entity, not a part of consolidation,” she said during an interview on This Week in Jacksonville.

Priestly Jackson said the council supports the school board and its decision.

“Our goal is within the first three years every school will be touched whether it’s adding additional fencing or the second barrier inside the school,” Greene said.

There was controversy last year when the City Council held off placing the measure on the ballot. Much of it had to do with the amount of money charter schools would receive. That is an issue currently being taken up in the legislature and out of local control.

For now, the School Board is on a wait and see approach, it all depends on what the City Council does next. If approved that is when the sales pitches begin.

“Well, there will be a group of people campaigning but as a superintendent, I can only educate our community of the need for the referendum. I cannot campaign for the referendum,” Greene said.

While all sides seem to agree on the issue, there could be some changes once City Council begins its debate over the next month. If it goes through as planned it could mean an additional $1.2 billion for schools over the 15 years.

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