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'It's about time we made the investment': DCPS half-cent sales tax campaign ramping up

Supporters of the half-penny sales surtax said the referendum has broad support at the city level, but the campaign to pass the tax is still full steam ahead.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The campaign in support of a half-cent sales tax to fund repairs and upgrades at Duval County schools is underway as supporters of the November referendum ramp up voter outreach less than two months out from the general election.

Schools in Duval County are, on average, the oldest in the state. But when state funding is cut, Duval County is unique in the fact that there are no alternative revenue streams, like a sales surtax or impact fees from development.

"Duval County, with this referendum, is really just catching up to other counties, other big urban districts that have already sought a new source of revenue to improve school buildings," said Stephanie Garry Garfunkel, spokesperson for Jacksonville Public Education Fund.

On Saturday, supporters of the half penny tax began distributing yard signs encouraging Duval County residents to vote "Yes."

Garfunkel said the state has made large cuts to school funding since 2008, creating a shortfall in the district's budget and leading maintenance and upgrade requests at aging schools to pile up.

If the sales tax referendum is passed by voters in November, DCPS is planning for more than one billion dollars in major school repairs as part of its Master Facility Plan.

"Teachers and students spend a lot of hours every day in these buildings, and what we've learned is when the buildings are well lit, and they're clean and the ventilation systems are good and the acoustics are good, student outcomes actually improve," Garfunkel said.

Former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney, who served in office after Jake Godbold from 1995 to 2003, is one of the referendum's more prominent supporters.

Delaney, along with other sales tax backers, is part of a political action committee called Duval Citizens for Better Schools. The group is leading voter outreach efforts ahead of the election.

"Only about 20 percent of the voters at any one time have kids in public schools, but 100 percent of the voters are impacted by the quality of the school system," Delaney said. "The better educated our people are in a community, the more economically prosperous it is."

Along with repairs, money from the sales tax would reduce the number of portables being used at DCPS campuses, as the district plans to either shutter, condense or outright replace various schools around the city. 

"The backlog every day just keeps getting worse because we're underfunded. We don't have those fees that other counties have," Delaney said. "It's about time we made that investment." 

Delaney said he believes the referendum will have strong support from the general public, and he noted that the money would stay in the community and create new jobs.

"Air conditioning mechanics will get work, and plumbers, and masonry people, and engineers and architects. Anyone in the construction industry, it's going to be positive," he said. "Apart from the fact that it's going to make a better education for our kids which is really the prime driver." 

So far, Delaney said there have been no other major groups or committees that have come out against the sales tax. The referendum has seen support from a wide swath of officials in City Hall, along with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.



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