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Government schools in Jacksonville are conducting a sales campaign in favor of a half-cent sales tax they hope local taxpayers will approve.

But their main sales point is a little suspect.

The school system says it needs to build new schools because it has not kept up with the maintenance and replacement of its school buildings.

Of the seven largest school districts, Duval County has the oldest average age of school buildings – 44 years.

School officials blame this not on neglect but on reduced funding from the state.

However, Hillsborough County’s school buildings are on average only 33 years old. Orange County’s are only 20.

The point is, any cuts in state funding affected all counties: Why is Duval the one with the oldest buildings?

We sent an email to the superintendent asking for clarification on this point but have not yet received an answer.

On the district’s Web site it says, “Our school district does receive some money from the lottery. It’s a relatively small portion of our total budget, and the State of Florida mandates that almost all of it be used for specific programs. That means it is not available for maintenance, renovation or construction of schools.”

“Some money”? Since its inception, the Florida Lottery has provided the local district with more than a half-billion dollars.

There are a lot of restrictions placed on schools. But money is fungible. If the state is paying for one thing it means school officials can shift that revenue to other purposes.

Other districts do have impact fees to provide funds. But that isn’t free money either. It is paid by new homebuyers.

The fact is, the government school student population is not keeping up with population growth in Jacksonville because people are utilizing school choice to find other ways to educate their children – homeschooling, charter schools or private schools.

That is a benefit to taxpayers. Not only is the education less expensive but the cost of new facilities is avoided.

At a meeting of the state Board of Education last year, Duval School Superintendent Diana Greene was quizzed sharply by board member, who wanted to know why she didn’t avail herself of more charter schools, specifically IDEA schools.

IDEA Public Schools primarily serve minority students who qualify for free school lunches.

A network of tuition-free, college preparatory public charter schools, IDEA serves nearly 53,000 students in 96 schools across Texas and Louisiana, typically in communities served by public schools that are rated as “failing.” The name IDEA is an acronym for “Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement” and their motto is “No Excuses!”

For years, 100 percent of Idea graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities.

This week, it was announced that four new Idea schools had been authorized for the Jacksonville district.

That, and a continued shift to alternatives should lessen the burden on taxpayers. Before voting, local residents should make certain they are given accurate information and realistic assessments of the situation.

Meanwhile, teacher unions are staging a big whoop-tee-do in Tallahassee today to demand higher pay for teachers.

When it comes to public education there never is enough money to quiet the demands for more.

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Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.

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