Duval County has some the oldest school buildings in the state — and citizens could be responsible to help pay for repairing and replacing them.
District leaders are now discussing funding alternatives to property taxes, to come up with the $1.95 billion needed for the work.
Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole spent the afternoon at a workshop with the Duval County School board, where they funding options were discussed.
Dr. Diana Greene, superintendent of schools for Duval County, said there were two options:
- imposing a sales surtax (i.e. the half-cent sales tax)
- a millage increase (also known as property taxes)
All school board members were in agreement that they wiykd like to go the half-cent sales tax route.
A half-cent sales tax would generate $1.3 billion over a 15 year period.
"This is our opportunity to take a stand, to stop talking about what needs to be done and actually make it happen,” said Lori Hershey, the Duval County Public School board chairwoman.
Greene said when it comes to finding an additional way to pay for the 158 aging schools, the board says it doesn't have any other options left.
Now they’re looking to put the half-cent sales tax into play.
“I think property taxes should be the significant portion of it — and whatever they need to do to make that up, there's got to be something else,” said Benjamin Redmon, whose daughter attends a Duval County public school.
“I think it's for the benefit of the whole community,” Becky Henson said.
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Duval County is one of the few large school districts that does not receive funding from impact fees or sales surtax.
It's fund only comes from property taxes.
"That's why everybody is moving to St. Johns County and their kids are going to St. Johns County and we all work in Duval County,” Henson said.
Before a referendum for a half-cent sales tax could ever make its way to a ballot, the school board has to draft a "resolution" to present to Jacksonville City Council, that will outline the following:
- How many years the tax would be in effect
- How the money would be used
- An outline of when the election will happen
“This step forward, with the resolution, is an opportunity for the community of Jacksonville to decide if they're going to support education,” Hershey told Cole.
School board members say they're looking at resolutions for a half-cent sales tax -- from Hillsborough County and Alachua County -- as examples.
Resolutions from both counties also include an "oversight committee" for financial accountability.
"This is our opportunity to take stand, to stop talking about what needs to be done and actually make it happen." #NEXT on @ActionNewsJax at 6-I'm taking a look at how @DuvalSchools wants to raise money needed to fix schools & counties they're looking to as an example: pic.twitter.com/bwP2tcHJ1T— Courtney Cole (@CourtneyANJax) April 23, 2019
When Cole asked Hershey what took the school district so long to propose this idea, Hershey said: "I think oftentimes, people who serve in public office, when there are term limits, sometimes you make decisions based on what your next steps are."
Hershey said this board is not afraid to make decisions that put students first.
“I think taxpayers are willing to pay for children to be in safe, good fully-equipped schools. I think they are,” Henson said.
After the proposal is presented to City Council, if nothing is modified— it would be presented to voters in November for a special election.
The half-cent sales tax would be the only thing on the ballot.