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Despite slow-walking, Jacksonville City Council panel talks up school tax referendum

Jacksonville City Councilmembers continue to slow-walk a bill the Duval County School Board is eager for them to pass.

The School District wants a referendum in 2019, authorizing an additional half-cent sales tax to fund nearly $2 billion in deferred capital projects.

However, the City Council has yet to authorize such.

The School Board meets with the full City Council on Aug. 14 (one day after the next Council meeting), ensuring no Council vote to authorize a referendum until late-August.

Nevertheless, despite deferring the referendum bill, the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee discussed the measure Tuesday morning.

Finance, in a sense, is a window into the Mayor’s Office’s thinking.

Chairman Aaron Bowman leads a crew that mostly employed Curry’s chief consultant, Tim Baker: Council newcomers LeAnna Cumber, Randy DeFoor, and Ron Salem did, as well as Terrance Freeman. Democrat and Council VP Tommy Hazouri endorsed Curry for reelection.

Democrat Ju’Coby Pittman, though not part of the Curry machine, was appointed initially (as was Freeman) to the Council by Gov. Rick Scott. She is friendly with the Mayor’s Office.

The committee had what Bowman called a “frank discussion.”

“I’m favoring the 2020 timeframe,” Bowman added. “But I’m only one-seventh of this committee.”

Ron Salem said he had questions about “broad-based issues,” including the funding of charters and using the Uniform Building Code rather than a more stringent code typically used for public schools.

Salem also wants a robust monitoring committee.

“There will be changes. There will be a recession. There will need to be changes to the plan,” Salem said. “Who will make those changes?”

Cumber said she feels “attacked for asking questions.”

“All our questions are legitimate. I asked very specific questions that weren’t close to being answered,” Cumber said, lamenting a “lack of seriousness” in the board answers.

“Being told by the chair that our questions were absurd” likewise nettled Chairman Bowman.

Councilman Al Ferraro noted his constituents’ questions were dismissed as “goofy.”

Hazouri warned of “a lot of organized opposition” to this referendum, a potential “one-shot deal.”

 Randy DeFoor, whose district has many old schools, likewise wishes the plan had been fleshed out.

Growth areas and areas without sufficient population are not addressed.

DeFoor wants the board and Council to “sit down like adults” and “remove the emotion.”

“Look at this to make sure every student’s needs are being addressed,” DeFoor advised. “Right now, they are not.”

School Board member Ashley Smith-Juarez spoke, expressing disappointment over the inability to find “resolution.”

“We are here to work with you … to move this process forward as grown adults, together,” Smith-Juarez said.

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