Audrey Gibson, Tracie Davis push for sales tax vote for Duval Co. schools

Audrey Gibson
"We don't want this to be like the JEA issue."

During the Jacksonville City Council agenda meeting Tuesday, members were incredulous at the late delivery of the Duval County Public Schools’ master construction plan.

They expected it Thursday, maybe Friday. They received it minutes before the meeting, a stack of 19 of them delivered to the reception desk in City Council offices.

Incredible chutzpah, thought some Council members. Especially given the district wants a special election in November to allow voters to decide on whether or not to authorize a half-cent sales tax.

Many are skeptical of the timing of the vote. Mayor Lenny Curry has asserted this should be on the 2020 general election ballot, rather than in a stand-alone, low-turnout election.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation requiring that such votes be on general election ballots starting next year; the Duval vote would be an attempt to circumvent that law.

The donor class (read: the Jacksonville Civic Council) believes that charter building standards and charter schools will lower the $1.9 billion price tag.

And Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is skeptical, not just of the referendum, but of the school district itself.

However, the school board position had its advocates too, and they packed Council chambers, to such a degree that acting Council President Scott Wilson pushed to have the school tax referendum saved for last.

“It would be unfair to have people have to wait through all that,” Wilson said.

Well-known Democrats, including Senate Democrat Leader Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis, were on hand to make the case that the School Board has the right to call for a referendum this year.

Gibson warred with Curry on a previous referendum (the 2016 pension reform vote, where Gibson claimed Curry asserted she’d endorsed the vote when she hadn’t).

Now, with Curry cool on this one, it was up to Gibson (and 67 other speakers) to bring the fire.

In an assertion of parliamentary privilege, Wilson did not honor a Gibson/Davis request to speak first and leave for a “prior engagement.”

They got to sit and listen like those hardy souls still left on the Council dais. Eventually, they proposed to go “dead last,” in the words of Councilman Greg Anderson.

Gibson said “there should be no distraction” regarding “charter schools.”

“There is a plan,” Gibson said. “Whether or not you agree with it is something else.”

Gibson noted that public schools got no PECO dollars this year, then attacked the “cloaked” Civic Council as “not knowing what is at stake.”

“It seems kind of strange for us to ask you all if we can vote,” Gibson concluded.

Davis, a former special education teacher, added that this would “let the voters vote.”

“We don’t want this to be like the JEA issue … the Hart Bridge demolition … the Jacksonville Landing demolition,” Davis said.

In addition to the two state legislators, other community notables spoke.

Former Councilman Warren Jones, a board member now, said the state underfunds schools, and without an impact fee or sales tax, “we need the help we can get.”

“We’ve had to make really difficult decisions,” asserted board member Elizabeth Andersen.

“How many Council members would be willing to drive a 50 year old automobile to work each day,” asked NAACP President Isaiah Rumlin, saying the vote was for “safety and security … at every school.”

Jacksonville Public Education Fund President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune said the group’s polling, conducted via the University of North Florida, shows 60 percent support for a tax hike, with 78 percent supporting a facilities tax.

“More than three out of every four residents,” Tutwiler Fortune said.

A rare voice in opposition: Jeanne Miller of the Jacksonville Civic Council, who acknowledged “severe capital needs,” but said there is “no specific plan … a proposal that has yet to be voted on by the Duval County School Board.”

Miller urged charter school construction standards as a way to use “taxpayer dollars in the most efficient manner.”

“We want to make sure charter schools are provided a pro rate share,” Miller urged.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • Susan

    June 11, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    A Republican speaks out about the GOP legislators continually funding charter schools and money for vouchers without funding the neighborhood schools. Here is an excerpt from his speech:

    The charter management companies signed these contracts with our local school districts and they said that they could educate our children for 95% of the FTE or whatever that number is over time. And every year since, they’ve come to THIS legislature to ask for more money. They wanted PECO, and we gave them PECO. They wanted $158 million, we gave them that. And now they want a part of the local option millage and we’re gonna give them that. Well I’ll tell you what… I don’t know about you all but, to me, that is just intellectually dishonest. And I’m wondering when this Senate will stand up and say “enough is enough.”

  • Frankie M.

    June 11, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    DCPS gets the shaft again. How dare the school board not kiss the ring of the donor class. Nevermind that charter schools will get a big chunk of this proposed revenue. Their answer let’s build public schools to strip mall charter school standards. Would the donor class send their kids to schools in strip malls? So much for raising the bar. Educate on the cheap. Who needs certified teachers anyways? Where’s TFA? Anybody can teach. Follow the charter school $$.

  • Jane

    June 12, 2019 at 8:07 am

    My grandson attends a charter school, is in third grade and reads at 12th grade level. Why is this? The kids in his school have parents who CARE!!
    It’s not easy when you work to drive across town to get your kid to school and picked up again!
    It’s not easy to stay at home with your kids doing homework when your friends are out partying!
    It’s not easy to keep your kids at home and off the street corners aimlessly doing nothing!!

    These parents who CARE are who are entitled to something more for their tax dollars than being forced to put their kids in local neighborhood failing schools!!!

Comments are closed.


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