Based on comments from City Council members, no consensus exists about what changes the council wants to see in Superintendent Diana Greene's proposal for how charter schools would receive sales tax dollars for buildings and equipment on their campuses.
A three-hour meeting of the Jacksonville City Council and the Duval County School Board showed sharp differences exist between some City Council members and the school district over a proposed half-cent sales tax referendum, including how to share revenue with charter schools.
Council member Tommy Hazouri called funding for charter schools the "elephant in the room."
Based on comments from City Council members, no consensus exists about what changes the council wants in Superintendent Diana Greene's proposal for how charter schools would receive sales tax dollars for buildings and equipment.
Some council members said they are ready to finally vote on the School Board's request to place the referendum on the ballot so voters can decide if they want a 15-year, half-cent sales tax for school construction, renovation and technology.
NATE MONROE | Time for School Board to sue City Hall
TIMELINE | Proposed half-cent sales tax for Duval schools
"Let's vote it up or down," council member Garrett Dennis said. "Let's be courageous. Let's get through committee and vote. We need to stop hiding and vote for it."
From meeting comments, a council majority does not back a 2019 referendum as sought by the School Board. Several council members said the target date should be a November 2020 referendum.
"We're going to do it right and we'll do it for 2020," Hazouri said.
While the bulk of the question-and-answer session focused on the proposed sales tax, City Council member Matt Carlucci said he would put forward a resolution to look at the potential for creating impact fees in Duval County for new development to help pay for new schools in growing parts of the city. Carlucci also asked to be part of an inter-local committee to discuss an impact fee's role.
"I don't think we moved the needle as far as I had hoped, but it was about as far as I expected," he said of the meeting. "City Council has a lot of city business we need to handle. The biggest force for good for our city is the school system."
In regard to charter schools, Greene said they would get a share of sales tax money. She said all charter schools would get funding for safety and security improvements based on the same square-footage formula as traditional public schools.
In addition, charter schools could apply for funding for building improvements or equipment based on the same evaluation criteria the district is using to decide how to spend money at traditional public schools.
KIPP Jacksonville Executive Director Jennifer Brown — speaking on behalf of the charter school perspective at City Council member Rory Diamond's request — read a prepared statement from her phone. Brown said that historically, charter schools have received less tax money for buildings than traditional schools.
She said an objective, transparent way to fund schools, whether traditional or charter, would be for the money to "follow" students with a per pupil allocation. Each school then would receive an amount based on a school's total number of students.
"To be excluded from the $2 billion this tax will generate will inhibit charter schools' ability to improve the current facilities they exist in as well as accommodate the demand for choice by building new facilities into the future," she said.
Greene said if the district used a per pupil funding formula to decided where to spend sales tax money, Greenleaf Pines Elementary School and Waterleaf Elementary School would each get $12 million for school work, even though Greenleaf Pines needs $13 million of work and Waterleaf only needs about $1 million.
"How do you measure how much air conditioning one kid absorbs," Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said after the meeting in response to the per pupil funding proposal. "Do you record how many times one kid will flush the toilet? How much air they're going to breathe? You can't do per pupil. There's no place in this state that does per pupil funding for facilities."
School Board Vice-Chairman and former City Council President Warren Jones called per pupil funding "greedy."
"I don't support per student allocation because this plan is based on need, not greed," Jones said. He said if a school has a leaky roof over 10 students' heads or 200 students' heads, it still has to be replaced.
Greene said Brown's statement on behalf of KIPP schools marked the first time she had heard charter schools wanted to use the sales tax to help pay the cost of building new charter schools.
School Board member Elizabeth Anderson said council members were asking a lot of questions about how the district would spend money on each traditional public school but did not have detailed questions about spending for charter schools.
"What you're asking for is essentially a blank check for charter schools," Anderson said.
For Jones, referendum dialogue opens the floodgates to addressing what he calls long overlooked "racial overtones."
"For the first time in Jacksonville's history, we have a superintendent willing to address the needs of our oldest neighborhoods. This council never did this. The mayor never did this," he said.
That struck a nerve with Councilman Al Ferraro, who said he was upset race was brought into it.
"I don't look at the color of our neighborhoods or our kids," he said. "I want to do what's best by everybody."
Still, Jones said it's deeper than that.
"There are vestiges of racism in Jacksonville that we haven't addressed," he said. "The past impacts the future."
Diamond said he will introduce a resolution that would give council members a way to express their views on the sales tax referendum and send that to the School Board for it to consider making changes. Diamond said he wants the resolution to have a per-pupil allocation to charter schools.
If council went that route, it would require majority support by council to approve any recommendation.
BLOG | Duval County sales tax referendum discussion
"The Council hereby requests that the School Board amend its School Capital Outlay Surtax plan to include a clear and specific allocation for charter schools," the draft resolution obtained by the Times-Union said. "While other allocations may be as effective, the council recommends that the School Board modify its plan substantially as follows: In each fiscal year the School Capital Outlay Surtax shall be allocated to traditional and charter schools on a per pupil basis."
Council members also had questions about the timeline for when the work would be done at each of the more than 150 school campuses covered by the master facilities plan.
City Council member LeAnna Cumber said families of students and residents deserve to know when a sales tax would result in work being done at a school. She said she does not understand why it's not possible for the district to put a year next to each project.
"That, to me, is crazy," she said.
She said when constituents ask her when a particular school would be fixed, "My answer will be, 'I don't know because I've been repeatedly told by the School Board there is no timeline.'"
Greene said that if the referendum goes on the ballot, the district would put forward a timeline before voters go to the polls. She said she wants the bulk of the work to be done in 10 years, which she said would be an aggressive pace.
"The solutions are very dim without additional revenue," Greene said. "As superintendent, the answers I gave won't change. I'm here at the pleasure of the School Board. Whatever plan is approved, it will be implemented."
The three-hour meeting sets the stage for City Council committee meeting's next week and possibly a vote by the full council on Aug. 27.
"I'm certainly troubled that we haven't come to a feeling of better consensus," said Joyce Morgan, one of the few council members who has voted in support of the referendum previously. "But at least we're here at the table."
Morgan came short of scolding fellow council members for asking lengthy questions and offering suggestions now, rather than at community meetings the district held before approving its plan.
"I almost feel like we missed the meetings and then wanted to get in on it." She also complimented the School Board for "sticking their necks out" the way they have.
Following the meeting, City Council President Scott Wilson said it was a useful session.
"I think the School Board better understands some of the concerns of the council members, and my hope is the School Board takes that information and continues to work with the council members to get them to a comfort level where they're ready to vote," he said.
Chairwoman Hershey said she wasn't surprised by the outcome, but frustrated.
"What other board has to go through this to get funding?" she said. "I don't know at what point have we answered enough questions for the City Council to be able to make a decision. Our offer currently is equal sharing of dollars for all schools as well as the ability to get dollars based upon need. But the council wants per student funding. That's the holdup."
David Bauerlein: (904) 359-4581
Emily Bloch: (904) 359-4083