Having reported on Tuesday’s action in city council committee (love the alliteration), Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is ready to reflect on recent events, current status, and the pathway forward for the Duval County Public Schools Board of Education regarding its soon-to-be-adopted Master Facilities Plan and its need for a sales tax surtax of one-half cent to finance it.
In a way, GOT stands alone on this issue. He agrees with fellow public education advocates that the need is real, the proposed additional half-cent sales tax dedicated to renovating and replacing decrepit or obsolete school buildings in the city is a small sacrifice to make that will provide huge benefits for the public, and that the school board and its superintendent are doing the right thing.
Yet, the stampede, the manufactured urgency, has caused GOT concern from the beginning. It is not given that the public will actually vote for the sales tax despite polls showing overwhelming support. It’s easy to answer a pollster’s question. It’s something else to show up and vote yes.
Thus, GOT’s position has been that this has to be done right and the school board needs to take whatever time necessary to make sure it’s done right.
A new poll by the University of North Florida supports the JPEF poll in that they found 75% of person in favor of the half-cent sales tax. However, not all were in favor of a 2019 referendum, only 34% of those responding, whereas 49% were in favor of voting on the sales tax during the 2020 general election.
Let’s take the time to get it right and build the public support we need. Few dispute the need and the deteriorating conditions of school buildings in Duval County, Florida, not even the city’s politicians who have been questioning the plan, the financial analysis, and community involvement.
With overwhelming public support, the politicians will have no choice but to go along, even Boss Curry, as some seem to regard him.
For better or worse, here are GOT’s observations as we close out the week and head into next Tuesday’s city council meeting, when the referendum may be debated and voted upon or pulled from the agenda.
- Attention is being diverted over the issue of if and how charter schools should participate in the referendum. The issue is not WHO should receive the proceeds of a half-cent sales tax. We must remain focused on the purpose of the sales tax: to replace or renovate deteriorating, decrepit, and in some cases, disgusting public school facilities. (Watch the district’s video where a high school teacher describes the sewer smell they have to put up with.)
- Given the need to replace and repair public school facilities, the Duval County School Board is being fiscally responsible and fulfilling their public trust by examining ways to pay for it. The sales tax is one way; it is not the only way.
- Given the hostility of the Florida legislature towards funding the needs of the state’s public schools, Duval is correct in looking to raising the needed funds locally. Unless it is KIPP, which gets an extra $2 million dollar state subsidy annually (if you’ve never driven by their school at 5th Street and MacDuff Avenue, you should. You will marvel at what an extra $2 million will do for a school,) or Tiger Academy, which was penciled in for an extra $1 million for next year, the people we send to Tally have no interest in making provision for the maintenance of schools.
- Whatever their motives, the concerns raised by the city’s politicians are legitimate. They are wrong that the School Board has not done their homework [glad I could work that in–editorial note], but they are not feudal barons tyrannizing their serfs. Many people share those concerns. Again, taking the time to get it right will pay off in the end (pun intended.)
- Events and reactions have moved fast. It’s time to ask the city’s council representatives, including the incoming ones, some questions so we know where everyone stands. GOT volunteers for the mission.
- The failing public school narrative is still strong in the public’s mind. Once the sales tax and building issue is settled, it is imperative that the public realizes that the failing school narrative is false.
In closing, the School Board seeks to address a pressing issue: the conditions of neighborhood schools, which 90% of Duval’s parents, given the choice, continue to choose.
Why is it that charter schools always greet every proposal with the intent to grab as much as they can for themselves? Why is it that their proponents cannot say that a vigorous, stable, and robust public school system is an important part of the city and that they therefore support the Master Facility Plan and the sales tax to pay for it? Why can they not say that they, too, support Jacksonville’s neighborhood schools?