Duval voters may get to vote for a half-cent sales tax for school maintenance this year.
The new legislation will be presented at Tuesday’s City Council meeting in an effort to place the referendum on the 2020 General Election ballot and to settle out of court, City Spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton confirmed.
“Two measures will be added to the agenda,” Kimbleton said. “Basically, if the council votes to place the school tax on the November ballot, [Duval County Public Schools] will dismiss any pending litigation.”
This move follows 10-months of back-and-forth between the city and school board as well as two lawsuits. The sales tax would fund the district’s $1.9 billion master plan for school renovations, rebuilds and security enhancements. The school board originally wanted the referendum to have its own special election last year. That plan largely stalled because of City Council’s different views on how much money should go to the district’s charter schools.
Things seemed to lean in the school board’s favor when a judge ruled last month that it had the right to hire outside counsel and sue. But the city’s recent decision to appeal threatened another timeline push-back.
The Times-Union asked City Attorney Jon Phillips what a settlement out of court would mean for in the future if the school board wanted to sue the city again, but he declined to comment. School Board Attorney Hank Coxe also declined to comment.
Now, Mayor Lenny Curry is speaking with members of both the City Council and Office of General Counsel as well as the school district and school board to reach an agreement.
“Since this topic was brought up for community discussion last year, I have always maintained that 2020 was the best time to focus on this crucial issue,” Curry said. “Now is the time to work together for the benefit of Jacksonville’s children.”
Curry initially voiced that he thought 2020 would be better than a special election in early June. The following month, he said he’d support the sales tax referendum if it was “financially prudent.” Weeks later, he took a meeting with then-School Board Chair Lori Hershey, Superintendent Diana Greene and City Council President Scott Wilson to try and reach an agreement. By September, the school board sued. This year, Curry was back in private meetings with Greene.
“I am greatly appreciative of Mayor Curry and his administration for being open to dialog on the referendum to provide all Jacksonville students functional school buildings built for safety and learning,” School Board Chair Warren Jones said in an emailed statement. “We’ve had a number of good conversations with the Mayor, his administration, the superintendent and city council members. We are actively negotiating an agreement we hope to bring to the School Board and City Council as soon as possible.”
School Board Vice-Chair Elizabeth Andersen said the bills are a step in the right direction.
“Taking care of the facilities’ needs and doing what’s in the best interest of children is overdue,” she said. “I’m excited about the possibility of improving our schools.”
It’s unclear what an out-of-court settlement could mean for charter school funding. Draft copies of the bills weren’t immediately available.
However, at a state level, a bill currently making the rounds in legislation, Senate Bill 62, could require public school districts with sales tax referendums to share that funding with charter schools on a per-pupil basis — exactly what members of the City Council originally were pushing for.