JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On Nov. 3, voters will decide if they agree to pay a half-cent sales tax to help fund repairs to aging public schools in Duval County. If passed, the tax is expected to generate more than $2 billion for the school district.
Here are answers to some common questions about the half-cent sales tax referendum:
Why not use lottery money?
Many of you have asked why the school district cannot use money generated by the sale of lottery tickets to pay for maintenance and repair of the district’s schools instead of adding a tax. We asked that question of the district and Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene. They said the state of Florida mandates that lottery ticket sale money can only be used for specific programs, such as Bright Futures and higher education. That means it is not available for maintenance, renovation or construction of schools. While the district does receive some money from the lottery, it amounts to less than 1% of the total budget and would only fund the district for about one school day.
Would any of the sales tax money go to school board or administrative salaries?
No. By law, money from the referendum can only be spent on school security upgrades, technology, infrastructure, school renovations, new schools and large maintenance needs.
How did we get here? Did the district mismanage money that should have been used to repair schools before they reached this point?
Greene said the reason so many schools are in disrepair is because of the Great Recession.
“In 2008, at the beginning of the Great Recession, the school district, along with other school districts in the state of Florida, had a reduction in millage, which pays for capital improvements,” explained Greene. “In 2008, it went from 2.0 mils down to 1.75, and then two years later, it went down from 1.75 to 1.5. So over that time, the district has lost $300 million in capital funding that would go towards maintenance upkeep of our facilities."
How did the district determine the financial needs of each school?
“A third-party, Jacobson Engineering, came in, graded, if you will, all of our schools. That engineering firm went through every single school to determine the needs of those schools,” Greene said. “And through another third-party, it came through and determined the budget needs of each of those schools. Based on those two entities, this plan was developed.”
To see exactly how much of the tax money would go to each school if the measure is passed in November, click through to find every school on the interactive map below.
How can the half-cent sales tax money be used? Oversight?
Greene said: “First and foremost, all dollars must go towards capital needs. It is a capital surtax half penny. There will be a citizens oversight committee, and the school board will update their resolution at the next board meeting and the board will start with the appointments, and that oversight committee’s job will be to hold the district accountable for what is in the Master Facilities Plan and utilizing those dollars to accomplish the goals of that Master Facilities Plan.”
If you do not have a child in the public school system, why vote in favor of this referendum?
“As superintendent, I can only educate taxpayers about our needs,” explained Greene. “Our school district serves over 130,000 students with over 13,000 employees and we are an economic driver for our community whether you have children in the school district or not, and for our facilities to be the oldest in the state of Florida, it would be to the advantage to upgrade those facilities so our students can have access to 21st century learning and technology. Our students when they are more educated or highly educated, it gives our community more of an opportunity to have them come back as doctors, lawyers and teachers to be productive citizens in our community.”
Is the sales tax forever?
No, the tax would expire in 15 years unless residents voted to renew the tax.