State lawmaker wants Duval County School Board to be appointed

Bill would change board from elected by voters to selected by mayor

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A former member of the Duval County School Board who now represents Mandarin in the Florida House has introduced legislation modifying Florida law and Jacksonville's city charter to allow the mayor to appoint members of the Duval County School Board rather than having them elected by the voters.

This comes as the mayor and City Council are at odds with the Duval County School Board over if and when a referendum can go on the ballot asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to fund capital improvements to schools.

"My goal is to give a platform to make a case for the best structure we should have for our kids. What is going on today is not working," said Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville. "Should it be fully appointed by the mayor? Should it be appointed by the mayor and the governor? Should be partially elected, partially appointed? Or should it be fully independent like the other school districts around the state of Florida?"

While Fischer said he was poising those questions, the local legislation he filed would amend state law and the city charter, making it an appointed board, with appointees by the mayor subject to confirmation by the City Council. Board members would also be subject to removal by the mayor if confirmed by the council. The matter could be voted on at the Duval Delegation's meeting in October. If it passes there, it must be approved by the Florida Legislature.

In response, Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Carlucci on Wednesday introduced legislation saying any change to the School Board structure would take a vote or referendum by the public. It will be presented to City Council next week.

Fischer's proposal is raising eyebrows with current School Board members.

"One of those troubling aspects about this bill was the fact that it literally has the potential to be decided in Tallahassee," School Board Chairwoman Lori Hershey said Tuesday night. "If the city of Jacksonville will have an appointed School Board, appointed by the mayor, removed at the mayor, serving at the will of the mayor -- it just doesn't make any sense to me."

"I can tell you for me personally, I as a citizen appreciate being able to vote who represent me in office," Ashley Smith Juarez said.

In its 2009 report, the Jacksonville's Charter Review Commission supported changing to an appointed board, arguing it would increase accountability. The commission, which meets every 10 years, is expected to renew its discussion of the change when they meet later this year.

City Councilman Aaron Bowman said he's aware of the discussion about changing to an appointed School Board, but questions the timing of such a move.

"I’ve got to say, right now I look at what’s going on and why we are in the situation we are, maybe it’s not the right plan and I wouldn’t say that is the right answer," Bowman said. "But I’m looking forward to the Charter Revision Committee to open it up and take a look and come up with some recommendations."

Councilman Matt Carlucci on Wednesday said he would introduce legislation next week that would require a change to an appointed School Board to be approved by voters in a referendum.

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