Explainer: Duval County schools’ half-cent sales tax vs. millage rate increase

As Duval County Public Schools continues to grapple with a crippling teacher shortage and retention problem, Superintendent Diana Greene recommended that the school board consider hiking property taxes by one mill in order to boost salaries, fill the record number of vacant staffing positions and bolster the district’s arts and athletics programs.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Duval County Public Schools continues to grapple with a crippling teacher shortage and retention problem, Superintendent Diana Greene recommended that the school board consider hiking property taxes by one mill in order to boost salaries, fill the record number of vacant staffing positions and bolster the district’s arts and athletics programs.

A one-mill increase means the property tax rate in the county would go up by $1 for every $1,000 of taxable assessed property value.

The request comes as some families feel the economic strain spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, and over a year after Duval County voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund renovation, construction and security upgrades for the district’s facilities.

“Wasn’t the sales tax increase enough, @DuvalSchools?” Jacksonville city councilman Rory Diamond said in a tweet Tuesday. Diamond later tweeted a list of various tax increases, extensions and non-specific adjustments over the past five years, including the half-cent sales tax among them.

What isn’t in Diamond’s tweets, however, is an alternative solution for mitigating a massive deficit of working teachers and support staff in the Duval County school district.

Greene told the Duval County School Board on Tuesday night that the number of teacher vacancies in the district is at an all-time high, with many leaving for higher-paying positions in neighboring counties or outside the field of education.

While the number of vacancies is concerning, Greene added that the average experience of the working teachers in Duval County is on the low end of Florida’s 69 districts and platforms, coming in as 58th overall.

This slide was included in superintendent Dr. Diana Greene's Feb. 15, 2022 presentation to the Duval County School Board. (Duval County Public Schools)

Right now, the district has the following vacancies:

  • 393 school-based classroom positions
  • 88 school-based support positions
  • 376 school-based non-certificated positions
  • 173 district-based positions

In total, 1,030 staffing positions are vacant across the district, 466 of which involve teaching. Since the pandemic began, the number of teaching vacancies has increased by 98%, according to DCPS.

Greene requested the board introduce a resolution to consider a one-mill increase, which would need ballot approval from voters. Such an increase is estimated to generate $81.8 million each year.

While Greene described the issue as a crisis, some say raising taxes is not the solution.

One News4JAX Insider wrote: “It’s time to take a line by line look at the budget to find out where the waste is and get rid of luxury items and stick to the needed items. The increase of salaries for the teachers needs to come from the school board budget, not a tax increase.”

Gwenice Gibbs has children in the district and said she’s not 100% against the idea but wants to be sure it’s both necessary and effective.

“Because that affects a lot of us if they do decide to raise the property tax. So I want to make sure that that is the solution that’s going to fix what’s happening with the teachers,” Gibbs said.

In her remarks on Tuesday evening, Greene clarified that the half-cent sales tax is specifically and legally earmarked for building renovation, construction and security upgrades — and nothing else. Since its implementation in January 2021, the half-cent sales tax has generated $92.27 million as of the latest data update in November.

RELATED: How DCPS is spending money from half-cent sales tax

The school board is expected to continue to discuss the one-mill increase proposal at its March 1 board meeting.


About the Author:

Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.