Parents and school district say no tax dollars spent on lawsuits

City Council sued for not putting sales tax referendum on ballot

By Kelly Wiley - I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Amid a legal fight over a half-cent sales tax proposed to overhaul aging schools, the Duval County School Board says it will not use taxpayer dollars in its lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville. 

The school board filed a lawsuit against the city this week, saying the City Council has refused to put the sales tax referendum on the November ballot, despite having a "mandatory duty" to do so.

Both the school district and a group of parents and grandparents suing the city tell News4Jax their cases so far have been taken on by private attorneys free of charge, in lieu of spending tax dollars.

"We are not spending any taxpayer dollars for the legal team," School Board Chair Lori Hershey said. "They are doing this right now, we have received no bill from them. I want the community to know we are spending no taxpayer dollars on this legal effort."

But, as Hershey noted, there is some funding the district has that does not come from taxes that give the board's legal effort a "little bit more flexibility."

Among the residents lining up to take part in the legal fight are the parents of a six-year-old Fishweir Elementary School student, who along with two other parents, want the city to leave the decision over the sales tax up to the voters.

The proposed sales tax would pay for the majority of a $1.9 billion facilities plan that would renovate and replace some of the district's oldest and most worn down schools. The effort comes as the school district estimates it's paying up to $500,000 a month just to keep up with maintenance.

Lori Heffernan and Tim Albro, two of the parents, said the law firm of Delegal and Poindexter has taken up the effort pro bono. Their suit claims the City Council "abused its limited discretion to choose the ballot on which the half-cent sales tax should be placed when it voted to withdraw the bill."

"We, as parents and through the PTA, are trying to throw a really big bake sale and the City Council has gotten in the way at this point," Albro told News4Jax. "Part of the reason we filed suit is we don't have an answer for that."

Heffernan praised the efforts of teachers and faculty at Fishweir Elementary, who are doing their best even with flooding and other problems at the school.

"I will say despite the mess and things being tarped off and classrooms being boarded up, the teachers are amazing, and wonderful and cheery. Our son loves his teacher and the school in general."

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