In Jacksonville, the campaign for more money for schools has begun. Despite claims that it’s for the children, where are the adults who should take emotions out of the equation and discuss the actual needs and, most importantly, how the Duval County School Board is currently spending its $1.7 billion budget?
The world has dramatically changed since last year when the school board proclaimed the five needs of the schools: safety improvements, $1 billion in maintenance issues, closing and combing some schools, building two new schools and reducing portables. But with the county still feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we need to focus on the school board’s current $1.7 billion budget.
Many Duval County residents fail to realize that $108 million of their property taxes is currently designated for the sole purpose of the repair and maintenance of schools. Where has this money gone over the last five to ten years? Last year, more than $35 million was sent back to the general fund–and was not used for the designated purpose of repair and maintenance of schools. Come to think of it, when was the last time the school board’s budget was completely audited? Even a mere 1 percent savings would lead to an additional $17 million for schools and 2 percent savings from an audit would lead to $34 million. Wasteful spending can surely be found.
Duval County schools have around 110,000 students. Around a third of those students have parents who opted for virtual learning thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. The world has changed but the school board’s five needs from last year have not.
Our world and life have many new challenges and raising the sales tax–even by a half penny per dollar–is not appropriate at this time. I would look forward to debating this in an open forum so the citizens can hear and decide for themselves if the money for the school board’s proposals is timely. If this sales tax increase passes, the Duval County School Board will have more than $ 3 billion at its disposal and 15 years to waste taxpayers’ money.