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Jacksonville, Fla., city council blocks Duval County district's proposed sales tax referendum

School board wants to hold a half-cent sales tax referendum in November, but the city council voted 14 to 5 to withdraw consideration of the board's request.

The Jacksonville, Fla., City Council has voted to block the Duval County school district from putting a proposed half-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The Florida Times-Union reports that the Duval County School Board asked the city in May to place a referendum on the ballot. The city council voted 14 to 5 Tuesday night to withdraw the request from consideration.

Several city council members blamed the school board for the decision to withdraw the legislation; they contended that the board has not been flexible about resolving concerns raised by council members, such as the share of sales tax money that would go to charter schools.

Council member Rory Diamond argued that the best way forward would be to withdraw the legislation and give the school board time to develop a request that “a majority of Jacksonville can support.”

“We are very close, but in order to be to do it, we have to have a broad-based plan that has broad-based support,” Diamond said.

A legal cloud has hung over the district's referendum request because the city Office of General Counsel issued a memo in May asserting that state law gives the city council full authority to approve of reject the board’s request to put a referendum on the ballot.

That guidance, which General Counsel Jason Gabriel later solidified in a binding legal opinion, runs counter to how every other Florida county has handled such referendum requests made by school boards to their county commissions.

Heading into the council meeting, two city council committees split on their recommendations. The Finance Committee voted 5-2 last week in favor of withdrawing the referendum legislation, but the Rules Committee voted 4-3 in favor of the school board’s request.

The proposed half-cent sales tax would last 15 years and cover a big portion of the school district's $1.9 billion master facilities plan. Improvements would be made at more than 150 campuses across the county; the spending would focus mainly on replacing aging school buildings that are among the oldest in Florida. Some schools with large numbers of empty seats would be demolished as the district consolidates smaller schools. The district also would seek to eliminate portable buildings at over-capacity campuses.

The sales tax also would pay for safety and security upgrades at all campuses.

Charter schools would get the same funding of $5 per square foot for security enhancements as traditional public schools. Charter schools also could apply for grants to make repairs and renovations of their buildings, based on the same engineering criteria the district will use to portion out dollars for traditional schools.

The funding for charter schools would be less than what some charter school advocates have sought.


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