Referendum decision moves to voters

April 27, 2022 – Duval County voters will get a chance to demonstrate support for public schools as the Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday approved putting the school board resolution on the Aug. 23 ballot.

Voters will be asked to approve a 1-mill increase in property taxes.  The measure is designed to give teachers and staff more competitive pay and to improve arts and athletic programs for students.

The city council voted 14 to five to place the measure on the ballot.

The district’s use of this money differs from the 2020 vote. The half-penny sales tax that was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2020 can only be used for facility maintenance, repairs, and renovation. The money raised for the proposed property tax can be used for operations, which includes teacher and staff compensation and educational programs like arts, music, and athletics. All of the funding raised by the 1 mill would stay in Duval County and not be shared with state or federal governments.

“It’s time to get out of the way and let the voters decide,” said School Board Chairman Darryl Willie. “It’s their decision now. We have to honor our most experienced teachers and do whatever we can to retain them.”

In an earlier presentation, Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene reported that the district’s vacancy rate hovers around 400 classroom teaching positions, leaving many classrooms with substitutes, administrators or teachers forced to double-up in responsibilities. While starting teacher salaries have increased significantly, experienced teacher pay has not, causing many of them to make the same or slightly more than teachers just out of college.  Research shows students do better with experienced teachers, and Duval ranks 50th among Florida districts in years of experience.

“Experienced teachers around the nation are leaving the classroom, and we know that these are the most effective teachers,” Greene said. “Just like private business, we need to provide strong compensation to compete within this national teacher shortage.”     

Several Duval school principals told the city council about losing veteran teachers during the school year and struggling to replace them. Athletic directors and art instructors talked about inadequate and out-of-date facilities, which the referendum would address. Charter school representatives also spoke in favor of the referendum.  Charter schools will receive a proportionate share of referendum funds based upon student enrollment. The Jacksonville Public Education Fund offered research citing the need for more experienced teachers.

Duval County ranks last among Florida’s seven large urban districts in Florida in teacher pay and 40th among all districts. In addition, private businesses are luring teachers away from the profession with higher salaries.

The 1-mill tax is expected to generate about $82 million a year and cost the homeowner of a $300,000 home about $23 a month after the homestead exemption is applied.  One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of home value.

The district plans to spend 75% of the money on teacher and staff pay, with 12.5% going to art and athletics and another 12.5% going to charter schools, as required by law.

Hillsborough and Duval counties are the only two among the seven large urban districts without a voter-approved millage increase, and the Hillsborough School Board just decided to put its initiative on the August ballot as well. 

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