March 10, 2022 – When Duval voters approved a voluntary half-penny sales surtax in November 2020, they also launched a new body of citizens to oversee the use of the revenue and hold the school district accountable to the promises it made to voters.
That body, the Sales Surtax Oversight Committee, has issued its first annual report to the Duval County Public School Board.
First, while the district has built a robust dashboard showing financial and project management data for its plan, no such dashboard exists for charter schools. The district is currently considering ways to develop a dashboard for charter school data that is housed on the same website as the district’s.
The committee also encouraged the district to deploy other communication methods to share information on the building plan with the public. It was specifically recommended the district provide signs to schools where projects are underway. The district is in the process of creating that signage.
The final recommendation is that the district seek an outside opinion on the how charter schools are allowed to use sales surtax funds. The question centers on whether funds can be used for bond payments, and the district will seek an opinion through its normal auditing process.
The full report can be accessed on this webpage.
Background on the committee and the process
The committee of 22 voting and two non-voting members meets bi-monthly. It is comprised both of members appointed by the school board and representatives of diverse community organizations such as the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors and the Jax Chamber.
The committee reviews financial documentation and project timelines to help keep the public informed on the progress and implementation of the sales-surtax plan. The revenue from the sales tax is the primary funding source for the district’s $1.9 billion master facilities plan. In its first year, the revenue source generated more than $110 million. Duval County Public Schools netted more than $95 million with the remainder going to area charter schools as required by state law. Funding from the half-penny can only be used for facility and other capital expenditures. It cannot be used for operational expenses such as teacher salaries.
The committee is required by Board Policy to provide annual recommendations to the Board.
Committee Chairman Hank Rogers said the oversight process has worked well.
“The oversight committee members have been actively engaged since the first meeting, and the district has been transparent and forthcoming with information,” Rogers said. “This has been a great process and a model for how a government entity can build trust with voters on any type of special taxation.”
The dashboard of district projects, financial transparency information, and other oversight committee documentation can be found at www.duvalschools.org/half-penny.