A measure that could change how Duval County picks its school Superintendent cleared its first committee hurdle, with two ahead before the House floor.
“This bill emboldens democracy,” raved Rep. Anthony Sabatini, ahead of the 7-4 party-line vote.
If the local bill (HB 1079) becomes law, Duval voters in November 2020 would be able to vote on whether they want an elected Superintendent, setting up a potential election in 2024 to select a replacement for a position appointed for decades.
The bill is controversial even in Fischer’s hometown.
Fischer got the support of the Duval legislative delegation in a 6-2 vote last year.
“A bipartisan vote. It passed overwhelmingly,” Fischer said.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry also supports the measure, though his political capital is on the wane of late.
Meanwhile, the Duval County School Board voted in unanimous opposition to the proposal. The Jacksonville City Council deadlocked on a resolution of opposition.
“So the City Council voted, they don’t impact the delegation. And the School Board took a vote locally,” Fischer said, dismissing the decisions.
Fischer did not remember the City Council vote when asked by a committee member, Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph.
“They have no legal authority,” Fischer said.
He noted that the bill would not mandate an elected Superintendent but would offer “choice.”
The representative drew on his experience on the School Board with an appointed Superintendent, noting that the appointee ends up being the tool of a “handful of politicians” rather than “the voters.”
Public comment was uniformly opposed to the bill.
School Board Vice-Chair Elizabeth Anderson and Congressional candidate LaShonda Holloway were the most recognizable names of the 30 who showed, most of whom waived speaking time in opposition.
Rep. Tracie Davis, an opponent of this initiative from Jacksonville, sat as a guest on the committee.
“No disrespect,” Davis said to Fischer, “but I just wanted to be there to offer context.”
Davis believes that the “elected school board” picking the Superintendent was just as good as an election.