Jacksonville school tax referendum moves one step closer to ballot

Florida Politics | By A.G. Gancarski | April 19, 2022

The full City Council will vote next week on the August property tax measure.

An August referendum measure (2022-213) requested by the Duval County School Board, which would raise property taxes by one mill, is one step closer to the ballot Tuesday.

By a 4-3 vote, the Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee approved the legislation, which is supposed to generate $82 million in new money annually for the cash-strapped district. The School Board was successful in a sales tax increase referendum two years prior.

Republicans Aaron BowmanRory Diamond and Nick Howland all voted “no,” however, suggesting that this year’s path for another tax vote may still be rocky.

The bill approved by Rules would only put the referendum on the August Primary ballot, if the legislation is approved next week by the full City Council.

That approval was strongly suggested as required by the Office of General Counsel. The Council merely has a “ministerial” role as a “passthrough” to get the referendum on the ballot, said a city lawyer.

Voters will ultimately make the final call.

The committee advanced an amendment clarifying the language of the bill, specifying that the money is supposed to go to boost teacher and staff compensation at government and charter schools, with none of that money going to administrative compensation.

Superintendent Diana Greene noted the district is “financially solvent” but is “facing a massive employee shortage.”

This “teacher shortage” is nationwide, and corporations are also poaching district employees, Greene contended, offering perks like remote work and other measures of “flexibility.”

The state has increased beginning teachers’ salaries to $47,000, but Greene noted that move has flattened salary differences between experienced and new teachers. The referendum will help the district “remain competitive” and “retain teachers,” she said.

One person not likely to support the legislation: Gov. Ron DeSantis, who urged voters to be “very careful” when discussing the referendum last month.

“I don’t know what’s proposed or not proposed, but I’ve seen over the years where people will say they’re going to address these problems — which people would like to see — and then it ends up the money gets frittered away. Then they come back and ask for more tax increases, and that’s bad,” DeSantis said.

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