One former School Board member is challenging those supporting a new tax to build schools to take a straight approach that addresses all concerns while trying to sell the idea to the public.
Seven of the district’s 160 school buildings, all elementary schools, are more than a century old.
Scott Shine said new schools are needed, and he was a lonely voice advocating them when he was on the board.
But how many, where and who will build them?
It won’t be easy to convince voters to support a new half-cent sales tax unless advocates can address key points convincingly, Shine noted in a memo to members of the Jacksonville City Council.
Jacksonville’s public schools have declined in population even though other districts have grown.
In 1965, the school district had 125,000 students while the total county population was 509,000.
In 2018, the district had 113,000 students with a total county population of 950,000.
He said there currently are more than 20,000 empty seats in local schools. The announced plan would eliminate only 5,000 seats, Shine said.
Shine also said the former superintendent was using a figure of $1 billion for new schools just two years ago. This year the figure was put at close to $2 billion when first announced but has been scaled back to $1.3 billion.
Another critical issue is charter schools. Shine asked if the plan takes into account the use of charter schools, which have zero capital cost.
“Last week, Idea Charter Schools announced they will bring 12 to 14 schools to Jacksonville – mostly in the urban core,” he told the council members.
At a recent meeting of the Florida Board of Education, members challenged Diana Green, Duval County school superintendent, to embrace the use of charter schools more, especially Idea, which is an education organization that is getting nationwide attention.
Although Green said she would consider charter school applications, Shine seemed to question the board’s commitment to charter schools. He quoted from a local newspaper: “A School Board member, who asked not to be named, said that when mapping out the master facilities plan, board members were discouraged from relying too heavily on charter school locations in planning.”
Shine said, “When a member of an elected body must speak to the citizen through condition of anonymity, you have to question the level of transparency.”
Mayor Lenny Curry has issued a statement saying that he is not in favor of an immediate vote because “a detailed plan has not been presented to me or to this community.”
In justifying a new tax, advocates need to explain why a shrinking system needs more, newer, bigger schools and explain why it is not utilizing and building upon the success of charter schools.
Otherwise, the public will give the proposal a thumbs down and taxpayers will continue to be saddled with significant maintenance costs.