Mayor Curry signs bill adding school sales tax to ballot

After contentious path, City Council voted 18-1 to add referendum on half-cent sales tax to repair aging schools to November ballot

Mayor Lenny Curry on Thursday signed into law a bill that adds a referendum on a half-cent sales tax to fund Duval County’s aging schools to the ballot in November. (Zoom)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry on Thursday signed into law a bill that adds a referendum on a half-cent sales tax to repair Duval County’s aging schools to the ballot in November.

Dr. Diana Greene, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, said she and her staff will do their best to answer questions about how the money would be used if voters approve the referendum. Greene also said the Citizens Oversight Committee would also continue to guide policy and decisions if the referendum is approved.

She added the entire community will benefit from stronger, safer schools.

“This referendum is about schools and students, and now it’s about much more. It’s now about the economy, and it’s about future jobs and getting our community back to work,” Greene said.

She joined “The Morning Show” on Friday to talk about the signing of the bill.

One year after the Duval County school board pitched a half-cent sales tax to fix Jacksonville's aging schools -- The issue will soon go to voters to decide. Mayor Lenny signed the bill yesterday, adding the referendum to the November Ballot. Joining us now is Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, Dr. Diana Greene. Good Morning.

Duval County School Board Chair Warren Jones said thanked those who supported the plan, including the mayor and superintendent.

We got to realize that this is about children, and improving the outcomes of our students by providing a 21st-century learning environment. We have over 121 schools that are 50 years old or older. We know that, and we know that that environment is not the best for our students. We don’t have the impact fees. We don’t have a sales tax. We don’t have a millage increase. But with the passage of this today, I think the citizens are poised to improve not only our economy but also the academic success of our all of our students,” Jones said.

City Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson echoed those thoughts.

“What we’re committing to do is to make certain that our schools maintain world-class public facilities, public schools and high-quality education. That has been a long time in coming,” she said. “I am grateful for the collaborate spirt that we have brought to this at long last and I truly believe we are stronger together.”

City Councilman Tommy Hazouri added: “During these past weeks of the pandemic, good things still happen. I think this is huge for our kids and public education in Duval County.”

The bill signing comes after the Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday night voted 18-1 to add the referendum to the November 3 ballot, a decision that marked the end to what has been a contentious and litigious fight.

Upset by the slow-moving process, and ultimately, the withdrawal of the bill last August, DCPS sued the city the following month about the failure to bring the measure to voters. The referendum was brought back to the table on Feb. 25. Supporters made their case last month for the measure.

The Duval County School Board says it needs a staggering amount of money for improvements to aging schools, in excess of $1.9 billion. The half-cent sales tax would be in effect for 15 years and could net $1.2 billion.

The referendum was approved by three committee votes on April 6 and April 7 in a relatively seamless fashion, earning 19 “yes” votes among the three and just two “no” votes. The Neighbor Community Service, Public Health and Safety Committee voted 6-1 for it. The Finance committee voted 7-0 in favor, while the Rules committee voted 6-1 in favor.

Councilman Rory Diamond was the lone “no” vote on Tuesday.

The decision was celebrated by school board members who say the funding for schools is long overdue.

The plan was largely supported by the community, according to one poll conducted by the University of North Florida. According to the June 2019 poll by the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at UNF, 75% of Duval County registered voters supported increasing sales tax by a half-cent to upgrade or replace aging schools.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.