Fifty years ago, the people of Duval County, FL and the city of Jacksonville voted to consolidate the two governments into one. At the time, they were reeling from the the schools’ loss of accreditation and the corruption in city hall.
The reason Duval County Public Schools lost their accreditation?
“The inferior financial support of our local school system in comparison with those of other Florida counties and those of comparable size throughout the United States is not debatable.
“Our children must make their place in a world now directed by science and technology. Industry will follow good education. There is no alternative. This is the greatest community problem and it must be given prime consideration.” Source: Jaxdailyrecord.com
George Santayana said if we do not learn from history, we will repeat it.
What was that reason for the loss of accreditation? Let Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) put it in all caps: INFERIOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF [THE] LOCAL SCHOOL SYSTEM.
If you haven’t been keeping up, our new superintendent, Diana Greene, who took up leadership of the district July 1, 2018, commissioned an update of the Master Facilities Plan. It involved a review of every school building by professional, qualified engineers and concluded with a recommendation for consolidation of some schools, replacement of others, and renovation/repairs for the rest.
Unlike previous MFPs, the new superintendent realized a MFP will never take effect unless it can be funded. Due to numerous state changes in school funding, much capital construction money (a fancy accounting term that means build and repair schools) have gone to charter schools. Therefore, she recommended an additional half-penny sales tax for the next 15 years and requested that there be a November 2019 special election. When some objected to the cost of conducting a one-question ballot, the school board committed to paying the costs of the election.
At that point, the city attorney got involved to tell the City Council that they were not required to schedule the requested ballot. From that point on, the City Council of Jacksonville, through its committees and scheduled meetings, has refused to move forward on the referendum.
The reason is simple: the mayor of Jacksonville, Lenny Curry a/k/a known as Boss Curry, did not want a referendum this year. Also in opposition was a group known as the Civic Council, previously described in this blog here and here and here.
Thus, the City Council has delayed using one tactic or another. They dare not oppose the mayor, which calls up the days of the past.
Bold New City of the South? Or Timid Old City of the Past?
The schools have an urgent need for repair. They need money. The City Council, following the prompting of the Mayor, refuse to allow it although impartial polls show that city voters are 3 to 1 in favor. See here and here.
Let’s mention again the reason Duval Schools lost accreditation: INFERIOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT.
It seems the people of Jacksonville learned the bitter lesson of 1964, but their politicians have not.
But that is not stopping them. The ridiculous retorts of councilpeople that public schools are bad, but charters will save us all. Clearly, they have not bothered to visit public schools or keep up with the news that our schools have achieved their highest ever rating from the state: the District was only four points shy of an A ranking.
This is not a bold, new city striding confidently into the future astride the energy of its people. This is a timid city, one echoing the past, bad days when the corruption in the city government was rank and expanding, when every elected official set up an official fiefdom for a department and insisted upon a cut.
But the Civic Council and their big gun, the Boss of the City, will call the shots. Like the old Seinfeld episode, we can hear the mayor’s voice shouting, “No soup for you!” Or in these social media, thumb-twaddling days, we read it in his tweets.
Before we move on, however, GOT would like to add another quote from long ago: INDUSTRY WILL FOLLOW GOOD EDUCATION. THERE IS NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE.
Perhaps this is only education. Perhaps the rest of the city runs well and looks after the best interests of its people. Perhaps the mayor and the city council do care about voters’ preferences aside from the schools.
Oops, just kidding! The fix was in all along and mayor’s hand-picked man to run the city-owned utility (Jacksonville Electrical Authority–JEA), Aaron Zahn, who was a surprise pick to run one of the nation’s largest utilities when he had no experience … oh, wait, he did have experience but that was investment experience. If GOT’s memory does not fail him, privatization is right up Zahn’s alley.
By a 3 to 1 margin, people do not want the utility sold. That must be why JEA’s Board decided to explore the option today. Months ago, the mayor declared that privatization would not happen. Does anyone doubt Zahn went ahead only because he knew it’s what Boss Curry wants?
A sale of the utility would be a one-off sale that would bring billions of dollars to city government? What would the city do with the money?
More importantly, would the City Council refuse to advance an ordinance, leaving it to die in committee, if the mayor wanted it?
Would they have 10,000 questions that they would insist upon being answered as they have done to the school board? Would they insist upon a detailed list of projects and expenditures with an accompanying financial analysis detailing line item by line item exactly how the money would be spent?
Would they want dates and priorities declared?
If you think yes, GOT would like you to know that the Powerball jackpot is up to $63,000,000 tonight; maybe you’ll win but your odds are 1 in 292, 201,338. The MegaMoney game is currently at $168,000,000, but the odds are even worse.
The city council approved the $18 million tab for the buy-out of the operator and existing leases, as well as the demolition of the Jacksonville Landing with never a question for the mayor like the ones they are hurling at the school board.
No one opposes Lenny. No one if they know what’s good for them. This post runs long; GOT does not have room to recall how the mayor sacked hard-working, good-hearted people from many city commissions–all volunteer work. He didn’t think they would push his agenda. He wanted people who would do as they were told.
GOT also does not have room in this post to tell the story of the every 10 year charter revision committee stacked with people who will push to change the school board from elected to mayor-appointed.
But keep an eye on the big picture and know that few bold people are in power. The school board may be the last refuge in their fight with the city.
Bold New City? Don’t make me laugh. What we’ve been watching and speaking out against is the Timid Old City of the Past.