The situation: Addressing the deteriorating condition of the oldest school buildings in Florida, the Duval County School Board under the auspices of its superintendent, Diana L. Greene, hired a consulting company to examine every school building and develop a plan to renovate or replace the buildings.
The School Board, in an attempt to be fiscally responsible, took the trouble to examine how the plan could be paid for. The short answer is that, given the defunding of public schools being carried out by the Florida legislature over the last 20 years, the Board has reached capacity in its ability to issue new bonds.
Thus, the School Board wants to ask the voters, that is, the citizens and parents of Duval County, if they would pay an extra half-cent in sales tax to fund the renovation and replacement of obsolete, deteriorating, and in some cases, unsafe school buildings.
And that was when the proverbial <ahem> met the whirling blades of a cooling device used mainly by people like Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) who live without air conditioning.
GOT has heard that expression all his life. It’s summer, school is out, he has time on his hands, and he lives in a rural area where he knows many people who still raise cattle in a farming operation. Hmmm, what does happen when it hits the fan? Maybe an experiment is in order, although GOT is smart enough not to stand downwind when it takes place.
Perhaps that explains Mayor Curry’s reluctance (obstinacy?) to back the sales tax referendum. He knows his citizenry back the public schools, he knows a poll by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (known for their charter-friendly stance) shows that 78.5% of voters would approve a half-cent sales tax, and yet, something known as the Jacksonville Civic Council, a group made up of wealthy business people, is firmly against the new tax, arguing that plan is overpriced because public schools need not be built to sturdy standards as encapsulated in state law. The Civic Council is fine with public schools built along the lines of a pole barn.
Ah, the air conditioning. It’s one thing to throw a house open to the elements with the movement of air. It’s livable. But in these days of school safety, usually referred to in a shorthand way, “Parkland,” throwing a school building wide open is the last thing we want to do. Indeed, GOT has seen some proposals to harden school buildings to the point where there is only one way to get in or out, which sounds good until one thinks about the need to evacuate a crowded building quickly in the event of a fire or bomb threat.
Keeping children safe takes a sensible plan and architectural experts. The School Board is doing its job through its hiring of an expert firm to make good recommendations.
Jacksonville needs schools built to the proper standards despite what the cheapskates on the Civic Council say. Wasn’t Trump’s tax cut enough for them? Apparently not.
It’s a sales tax. Sales taxes are regressive in nature, which means the poorest people will pay the greatest burden. Yet the wealthiest object … exactly why? Because they are most able to afford it, but they are driven loony by the prospect? They don’t really explain themselves nor do they hold public meetings to take questions. We’ll never really know why a new, small tax sends them over the edge.
But that is Lenny’s dilemma. He knows the public schools are popular and people want them supported, helped, and fixed. Yet the wealthy elite of the city are opposed. (I won’t dignify them by calling them the ‘donor class.’ They donate to nothing that does not further their agenda.)
First, he wanted to see a finalized plan. Now that a plan is in place, he has more questions. What are the priorities? The plan doesn’t specify. If the School Board, with a tax in hand, is able to issue new bonds to hurry up the work, what is the repayment plan?
That is the tactic of a delaying politician, one who doesn’t want to be for the plan before he has to be against it.
GOT may surprise you by saying that Curry is asking legitimate questions as are other City Councilpeople. Even if we suspect their motives, the voters need answers in order to embrace the sales tax. Pie in the sky proposals will only hurt Duval’s schools in the end.
As Lewis Carroll observed, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
The thing is, the School Board and Superintendent have been answering these questions. And maybe, as news media personnel have noted, maybe the mayor isn’t paying attention because he spent his time during the latest City Council hearing tweeting out Jay-Z lyrics.
Then there are those who suspect Curry’s real plan is to gain control over the School Board by changing it from an elected body to a mayor-appointed body. But that’s a post for another day.
Another post for another day is the failure of the Los Angeles referendum to increase taxes to fund all the demands teachers made during their earlier strike that Los Angeles agreed to. It was a special, one-issue election with low turnout.
Something for the School Board to consider.
The ‘November is too early’ crowd may be correct, even though that means the referendum must wait for the general election in November 2020.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
But then, we throw broken clocks into the trash. The School Board gets one shot at this, only one, and it is imperative that it is done right.
GOT will vote for the tax, but continues to maintain that the vote must wait until the School Board has built overwhelming support in the city.
We have to get this right. The School Board may have everything done by November. However, the story from L.A. shows that low turn-out special elections can be a crap shoot.
School Board, you have work to do. Take nothing for granted.