0 for 2: Jacksonville City Council panels defer Duval school tax referendum
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Council panels rebuked the School Board tax ask Tuesday.

A hotly-contested bill that would allow for a November 2019 sales tax referendum to benefit Duval County Schools was deferred Tuesday in Jacksonville City Council committees.

Finance, which unanimously voted to defer, was the bill’s first of two committee stops Tuesday. Rules took up the bill — despite the earlier deferral.

Nevertheless, it met the same fate.

The School Board wants a November 2019 vote. The half-cent sales tax would fund, in part, a 10-year, $1.9 billion capital program. Many counties have seen school boards approve taxes for capital needs, moving them to the ballot without incident.

However, there was opposition going in.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says the School Board wants to build “Taj Mahals.” Others, including Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, wants more detail regarding debt service and project timeline, and his support of a 2020 referendum is contingent on those conditions. And by the end of the day, it was clear that Council would not be comfortable with moving forward in a time frame consistent with a 2019 vote, with the Council President hinting discussion should be deferred until a joint meeting in autumn.

A motion to defer happened very quickly in both Finance and Rules.

Republican LeAnna Cumber said the “referendum … will have an impact on our city’s credit rating,” Cumber said, asking for drill down there.

Cumber also expressed concerns with what she saw as undefined timelines.

“I’d like to see a timeline of what schools will be done first,” Cumber said, saying specifics are “critical.”

Cumber also noted that the “full August schedule” of the committee, with budget deliberations, precludes a full examination of the issue.

As well, the needed OPPAGA Audit would need to be conducted, and Cumber supposes there’s no time for that.

While there is some thought that audit would only be done after the Council and Mayor approve the ordinance, the School Board reached out in April to begin that process, which has been stalled, with Chairwoman Lori Hershey suggesting that “interference” has happened.

OPPAGA has not responded to requests for comment.

Cumber was joined by another Republican newcomer, Ron Salem, who noted concerns about the charter school allocation.

Cumber and Salem are both aligned with Mayor Curry’s political operation, as is Council VP Tommy Hazouri, who expressed confidence that everyone would support a 2020 vote.

“I know you’re anxious to do it,” Hazouri said to the School Board Chair and Superintendent in the audience, urging “more delay” and “deferment.”

“I want to see some white smoke come out of a meeting with you and the Mayor and Council members,” Hazouri continued, with an audience member bemoaning “excuses” from the dais.

“Charters are very important to me and this community,” Salem said.

Finance Chair Aaron Bowman noted that special elections get soggy turnout, yet another argument. He also questioned whether the School Board had the fiscal or political capital to sell a referendum with “significant marketing efforts.”

“Opposition … could rattle it pretty quickly,” Bowman noted.

Council President Scott Wilson addressed attempts at unity, noting his preference for “2020 as an alternative,” with referendum proponents still wanting 2019.

A joint meeting in early October to discuss further between the Council and the School Board would be Wilson’s preference.

That would make discussions of a 2019 vote, to coin a phrase, academic.

Rules Committee member Matt Carlucci said he wanted that 2019 vote in Finance, and pushed against a deferral of this “very important bill” in Rules.

Rory Diamond, who introduced the motion, noted that the Finance deferral meant that the bill was deferred, “not structured to move along.”

Diamond is concerned about enrollment declines, “school choice” and the overall costs of the plan, questions echoed by the portion of the donor class represented by the Jacksonville Civic Council.

“The only place I see kids getting a chance,” Diamond said, is a charter school, not a public school.

Michael Boylan, like Diamond newly-elected, noted his constituents aren’t sold yet and need more information. Randy DeFoor, who was in Finance, noted that the plan isn’t specific enough yet.

“We need to know how this plan’s going to be put in place,” DeFoor said.

Councilman Sam Newby voiced his support for deferral; as the fourth voice, it was clear Carlucci’s position was not going to prevail.

Chairwoman Joyce Morgan said she could not support the deferral, citing “fundamental issues” with the “gatekeeper” Council superseding the School Board’s ballot authority.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Morgan said. “We’ve stopped them from doing their job.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]


5 comments

  • Frankie M.

    July 16, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    It’s funny how the last council & this one like to play hot potato with the school tax referendum? Neither one wants to deal with it except for maybe Carlucci. This is what passes for leadership these days…smh. Pass the buck & hope you never have to deal with it. Kinda like the mayor with the HRO.

    Mrs. Cumber is worried about the city’s credit rating while kids sit in moldy portables. Weird…she wasn’t too worried about it when the JEA negotiated that deal with the nuclear plant in Georgia? Mrs. Cumber wants to know the timeline of projects…who goes first?

    Short answer: the ones your kids go to.

    Long answer: The ones that will go first are the ones north & west of the river that have been neglected by your short sightedness forever. And no those strip mall charter schools are in great condition. Those kids can learn next to a shadetree mechanic shop for goodness sake. They don’t need $$ according to our esteemed education commissioner whose wife’s charter school looks like the Taj Mahal while our kids are stuck in the Taj Duval.

    Finally if there was ever a better illustration of the need for this sales tax just look to Seber Newsom. Just look at him! He didn’t have AC in the 50’s and look how he turned out! I fear he is the ghost of xmas future for our kids.

  • Frankie M.

    July 16, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    Lenny 2: Public school students in shitty, moldy buildings with no AC: ZERO.

    Lenny on the 4th floor: Break open the champagne Jason! We screwed ’em over again!! All we do is win!!! #whatwouldJZdo

    If you think public school kids got screwed here just wait for 2020…smh. You won’t even recognize the charter school sales tax referendum.

    Meanwhile Lot J will sail thru no questions asked…no charettes necessary. Just one big charade.

    http://folioweekly.com/stories/bad-precedent,21632

  • Nichole

    July 17, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    Those people do not care and CLEARLY the ones who agreed with the deferral are not aware of what their job description is or what it takes to do it. THEY are the reason these schools are in these conditions and they do not care. They are FOR putting more money in their pockets NOT the education of children and benefit of our teachers. Shit is ridiculous.

  • Susan

    July 18, 2019 at 7:34 am

    Who are these constituents? Would he name them? They don’t care about the kids in portables in Mandarin? Several people from Boylan’s district spoke during the public comment period. Who are these constituents of which Boylan speaks?

    in response to this part:
    Michael Boylan, like Diamond newly-elected, noted his constituents aren’t sold yet and need more information.

  • Carol Smith

    July 20, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    I’d like to see every councilman who thinks charter schools are better walk in the shoes of a public school teacher. You condemn public schools without facts. Stop allowing charter schools to get funding for students and if students are behavior issues, send students back to public school.
    Every councilman that discredits public education is truly misinformed and an enemy of public schools. You should try spending quality time talking to teachers, parents, and students. Let’s see if you care enough to walk the halls of public schools. Which councilman is going to lead the way?

Comments are closed.


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