• Council Member Aaron Bowman, District 3
My child was a public school student and having superior education in Jacksonville is of utmost importance for our residents and the ability to attract new business and residents to the city. Our buildings are dated and need attention. This debate is not an issue of “If”, it is a multitude of issues and not having alignment between DCPS, the Administration, City Council, and strong business support is a recipe for failure and would make it much more difficult to pass in the future at another attempt if this effort fails. Is the referendum needed immediately, is it the right amount, has DCPS instituted cost savings to reduce the fiscal impact, are all students addressed by this tax increase, is the plan well vetted, has DCPS been forthright in explaining a schedule and which schools are targeted for closure, is there a marketing plan that is ready to go to the voters, etc.? Um a recent UNF poll said 70 percent of the city supported the referendum. The realtors association and numerous civic groups have come out for it too. Yo and the council aren’t that important that they need you. Also before you micromanage another duly elected bodies finances, concentrate on cleaning up your house.
The questions below are varied across the DCPS enterprise deeper than City Council normally gets involved in School Issues. However, our Legislative System requires City Council determine if and when a school referendum is put before the voters. Given that requirement, it is imperative that Council perform its due diligence just as we do on our city budget every year on when and why the referendum is needed, how will the tax dollars be utilized, if approved by Council will it be supported by voters, is the money being collected adequate, and is the impact of collecting the money aligned with capital requirements of the city. The legislative system does not require you to be involved, a corrupt and or incompetent attorney beholden to the mayor ignoring states and changing the meaning of words opened the door for you to become involved, a door you did not have to go through.
1. Never before has a tax referendum been attempted to be put on a ballot with as much haste, risk of failure, and lack of community engagement. Please explain the need for a Nov 2019 referendum, the marketing plan, marketing funding, plan to engage voters through town halls, neighborhood meetings, CPACS, Rotaries, etc. Justify the reason for spending tax-payer dollars for a Special Election which historically have extremely low voter turnout. Immediate haste? They have been working on this all year and its been needed for years. Putting it on the 19 ballot will save 5 million dollars, slow down wear and tear on the district’s schools, improve safety sooner rather than later and preempt whatever public school hating Tallahassee comes up with next session. Furthermore you and the mayor have elections in odd times that practically guaranty a low turnout. How about you fix that and then come back and talk.
2. Given historical voter turnouts of less than 15% for Special Elections in Duval County, explain what subset of the 610,000 registered voters is expected to turn out to vote. Will they represent favorable voters for a tax increase or will they be a subset of unlikely supporters that are on fixed income or ones that do not have children in public schools? Validate the cost per family: my simple math says there are 1,000,000 residents and this will annually collect $100M. That in turn means $100 per person per year. Reduce that number to $80 to account that 20% of our tax revenue is paid by non-residents. What is the real impact to every resident and every family? Everyone that wants too vote will be able too. This question has been answered, 1.50 a month per person is the expected cost.
3. Explain the desire and need to build to SREF standards and not waive to the new allowable Uniform Building Code requirements? What is the cost difference and potential savings by using now approved waiver processes? If the tax increase is not approved or if there is a slowdown in the economy that does not produce enough revenue will Uniform Building Code standards be used to save money to execute the plan? Does everyone else love how the council wants the district to build on the cheap? The super has said she would call for using the UBC when appropriate.
4. What guarantees do we have that current identified schools for closure and consolidation will in fact happen? Have procedures required to close those schools been conducted and approved? Where is the school by school schedule on the build/modify/close/consolidate schedule that justifies the 15 year, 1/2 cent sales tax? When and how will the schedule be finalized and how will the public be involved? What guarantees does a voter have that supports the tax because they want to support their local school only to find out after the vote, that school is targeted for closure? It’s a 15 year plan that covers 160 schools, 113 thousand students and 14000 staff, not every detail can be ironed out and plans and details will change. It’s ridiculous to require every detail to be mapped out now.
5. Explain the formula for revenue sharing for Charter Schools. Describe the regulatory process that will be used to guarantee tax revenue sharing before voters are asked to approve a tax increase. How will you re-write the referendum to ensure Charter Schools have their fair share to support all Duval County public students? This has also been answered. 5 dollars per square foot to all schools for safety and then money will be allocated on a needs basis. What is fairer than that?
6. Justify the enrollment numbers given the increases currently seen in Charter enrollment. What process will be in place for the referendum, if approved, that would stop the tax collection if enrollment numbers drop lower than projected or sales tax collection significantly outpaces projections? Will DCPS offer closed school buildings to new Charter schools? So you want more schools while the district is trying to consolidate and close underutilized schools? How does that make sense? We have billions in needs, and if anything the referendum won’t fix them all.
7. What risk management plans will be in place if the economy enters into a recession and tax collection dollars do not meet needs of current plan? I imagine it’s the same plan the city has, could you describe it for me?
8. Justify the need for the up-front plan to borrow $500M. What impact does that have on Jacksonville’s ability to borrow money and rates associated with borrowing? What is the impact to Jacksonville’s credit rating? Has this borrow plan been coordinated with City Financial offices? You share the same bond guy as the district, have you asked them, have you asked the city’s financial office? Aren’t you an elected official? Have you considered doing some of this work yourself? The district should be more concerned with the city’s bond rating impacting them?
9. What is the School Board plan for selling its waterfront facility? The building is dated, not efficient, not configured for its use, and has significant recurring maintenance expenses. The property is desirable for investors given the development surrounding the building and if sold would have significant addition to ad valorem taxes. I have personally talked to developers who would work with DCPS on leasing a new facility that would meet requirements. Would the Board do a resolution that ensures that it is actively pursuing those plans? You said you had a developer? Was that optimistic speaking on your part, where are they whats their offer? Complaining about the school board building which isn’t worth as much as you think it is and is completely paid for is a canard the ignorant or disingenuous use.
10. Other Districts in the Nation have entered into Public Private Ventures by leasing school buildings. Those ventures eliminate most up-front costs, have no maintenance expenses, and no long term commitments on keeping a building that may be in the wrong location or becoming obsolete. Why have those agreements not been investigated? What would the cost savings be if DCPS leased buildings instead of purchased? I guess this could be a thing but other than you nobody seems to want it. I believe the public wants to own their public schools.
11. Updated and comfortable educational facilities are only one leg of the educational process. Buildings alone do not make better students. What actions are planned to be in concert with upgrading facilities that will promote gains in student education, recruit and retain the best teachers, and make Jacksonville a top performing district in the state and the country? Is there an additional plan to raise Millage rates for Operational costs? The voters expect to see an entire package of what a $2B investment will do instead of just saying we have nice buildings. The district was less than one percent away form an A, but it does need more money for operational costs especially so it can attract and retain teachers. Could you talk to your friends in Tallahassee about properly funding education?
12. The issue of having outdated and non-maintained buildings did not happen overnight. Explain why this tax will be a one-time event and describe the changes in procedures that will ensure we maintain buildings correctly in the future, close and consolidate schools that do not justify being operational, and lessons learned on how we got to where we are and will not get there again. It may not be a one time event. Was the better Jacksonville plan a one time event? Also their wasn’t mismanagement because you can’t mismanage what you don’t have.
13. Justify and explain why DCPS will not investigate and open its own Charter Schools. Charter schools have been able to react quickly to need and demand at significantly lower cost. DCPS should be able to do the same thing. If not legal by state or local statutes, what do we need to change as legislators to allow DCPS to be more reactive and operate its own Charter Schools? Your insight into charters is a little lacking. Did the two dozen Jax closed charter schools react quickly? Whats innovative about the charter school USA schools? Also significantly lower costs? When you figure up grants, tax breaks, PECO dollars, that money adds up.
14. What efficiency and cost cutting measures has DCPS implemented in recent years and how do taxpayers know that internal cost-cutting measures have been investigated and thoroughly conducted prior to asking for a tax increase? Their budgets and audits are on-line.
15. Why did DCPS not reveal the need to have an OPPAGA Performance Audit prior to a Special Election and give case examples on how quickly an audit may be conducted that would ensure an audit could be completed and posted prior to 5 Sep 2019. Are there other issues and risks that have not been shared? You know they asked for it and you know someone at City Hall had OPPAGA stop it. I have a public records request in and will let you know what they say.
Can anyone give the district a crystal ball? Bowman must think they have one to answer some of his questions, plus does anyone think he asks these questions about anything the city does?
Bowman is a junkyard dog (please don’t mean tweet about my age and losing my faculties) he doesn’t care about our schools or want them to succeed but hey we could sure use some more charter schools.