JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Now that schools in Duval County have reopened for in-person learning, some city leaders say it’s time to shift the focus back to improving public schools in Jacksonville.
Former Mayor John Delaney, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover and former Duval County School Board Chair Martha Barrett came together for a discussion Thursday about the proposed half-cent sales tax that would benefit crumbling schools. The discussion was made possible by the Public Education Fund, which is pushing for voters to approve the measure on the November ballot.
Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene sent an email to staff this week that reads in part: “Every day I receive news about broken air conditions and other facility failures across the district … It’s time we bring this topic back to center stage.”
Thursday night, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund called on the community to get informed about the half-penny sales tax.
“There’s no good time to put a referendum in front of the people, particularly when it’s in a pandemic time and people are struggling in different scenarios. But it’s not a bad time either because the need is there,” Delaney said.
Photos were shared during a virtual forum of leaking roofs, torn-up floors and ceiling tiles inside schools that are nearly 100 years old.
Duval County schools are the oldest in the state, with millions of dollars in backlog maintenance.
“What teachers have been able to do with the conditions they’ve got it’s just mind-boggling to me,” Delaney said. “We need to give them an environment to be able to do their job to the maximum.”
Panelists said the sales tax is not just a vote for schools but an investment in the community, bringing jobs, boosting the economy and lowering the crime rate.
“When we have young people who drop out of school, we are looking at a person who could potentially end up in the criminal justice system,” Glover said. “And we cannot, we cannot prevent any kind of image that will stop them from staying in school.”
If the referendum is passed, $1.6 billion would be spread over 15 years to upgrade, repair and rebuild schools.
“There will be an overview board that the superintendent will appoint people to overlook the funding so that everything is fair and is a citizen-driven activity,” Barrett said.
According to the district, the tax will cost most families about $6 a month -- that’s $72 per year for a better learning environment for Duval County children.