JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Low pay for veteran teachers and more than 500 teacher vacancies in Duval County Public Schools are just some reasons why a community group is now pushing for Jacksonville to vote “yes” to increase property taxes. It’s an issue on the primary ballot in Duval County set to go before voters on Aug. 23.
Homeowner Latanya Maynard said she supports the tax hike as long as it goes to teacher pay.
“If property taxes have to be raised for that purpose then I’m in agreement to it,” Maynard said.
On the other side are also those like city councilman Rory Diamond who said not now.
“This is absolutely an insane time to raise taxes on Jacksonville’s homeowners,” Diamond said. “There is sky-high inflation. We just doubled the gas tax and the school board frankly just doesn’t need the money right now. This is not the time to raise taxes on our families.”
But one group of business and civic leaders say this is a perfect time.
They are members of Duval Citizens for Better Schools and include the chairman of the school board Darryl Willie and a handful of veteran Duval county teachers like Mai Keisling. She has been teaching in Jacksonville for 30 years but says she makes about the same in pay as starting teachers does now.
“How on earth is a brand new teacher coming in who still needs our help, that we are making the same salary those young people coming in without experience,” Keisling said.
If the property rate hike is approved by voters, teachers would be paid more and those with experience could get a $5,000 bonus to keep them on the job.
Willie said if approved, the new money would not go to administrators.
“You will not see any high-paid administrators or any cabinet-level officials be in that and that’s written in the ballot language, teachers and staff as a very specific language that we put in that ballot,” Willie said.
The school district anticipates the tax -- which would cost homeowners an extra $100 per year for each $100,000 of the accessed value of their house -- would raise at least $81 million annually. The tax increase would automatically terminate after four years unless renewed by another vote by the citizens of Duval County.
The district said that 65% of the revenue would be used to supplement teacher pay, 12.5% would be used for arts and athletic programs at public schools, 12.5% would go to charter schools, and 10% would go to pay increases for district staff.
The school board and school district have said it needs the extra money because of the vacancies of teachers and it can’t keep enough skilled teachers. It’s a question News4JAX put to some of the veteran teachers like Claire Nackashi who has been teaching for 11 years.
“It’s been hard,” she said, adding she needs the job because of health benefits. “My husband is self-employed he’s an artist and does a lot of work around Jacksonville.”
Jameea Jackson has also been teaching for 11 years.
“We’ve been teaching for years and years. We also wear many different hats. So I’m in leadership and I do mentor teachers. It’s kind of hard to have all these different jobs and still have the same salary as a novice teacher coming in,” Jackson said.
It will be up to voters to decide.
Vote by mail is underway, early voting starts Monday and the election is less than three weeks away.