Duval County School Board discusses potential one mill referendum

Feb. 15, 2022 — At their workshop this morning, the Duval County School Board discussed the possibility of asking voters for a one mill increase in property taxes, mostly to give teachers and staff competitive pay and to improve arts and athletic programs for students.

           At this time, no decisions have been made.  If the board decides to move forward with this proposal, they will also need to determine when to place it on the ballot and then forward a resolution to the City Council.  The City provides the administrative approval to place it on the ballot.

           At the workshop, Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene presented the board with facts, mostly focused on the national and local teacher shortage, other districts that have passed similar measures, and the recent rash of early retirements and resignations.  She reported that the number of district teaching vacancies hovers around 400 positions, leaving many classrooms supported by substitutes, administrators, or teachers forced to double-up in responsibilities.  The current teacher shortage, along with the stress of the past two years with the pandemic and remote learning, has placed teachers and staff under more pressure than usual. 

           A National Education Association survey indicated there are now 567,000 fewer educators in public schools than before the pandemic. Over half of its members anticipate leaving education sooner than originally planned. Duval County ranks 40th out of 69 districts in Florida for average teacher salary and ranks last out of the seven largest urban districts. The hourly wage of paraprofessionals ($15) ranks below cashiers and warehouse workers in the region.

           Dr. Greene recommended that funds from the one mill also be used to enhance art, music, and athletic programs. She further explained that, under state law, public charter schools would receive a proportionate share of funds raised through the one mill tax, based upon enrollment.

           The half-penny sales tax that was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2020 can only be used for facility maintenance, safety upgrades, repairs, and renovation. The money raised for the proposed property tax can be used for operations, primarily teacher and staff compensation and educational programs such as arts, music, and athletics. Dr. Greene emphasized that all funding raised by the one mill would stay in Duval County and not be shared with state or federal governments.

           The board is expected to continue discussions at its March 1 board meeting.

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