Florida Times-Union | by Emily Bloch | April 22, 2021
Duval County Public Schools collected almost $7 million in its first month of half-cent sales tax revenue, Superintendent Diana Greene said.
Greene said the school district received its first installment — $6,689,011 — from sales tax revenue at the end of March. A district spokesman said they expect to see February’s installment soon. Initial projections from the school district anticipated between $6.6 and $8 million per month over the course of the 15-year tax.
“We are neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic about the first collections in January,” Spokesman Tracy Pierce said. “This is a 15-year funding program being launched in a pandemic impacted economy. January is just the first data point. We are excited to be moving forward with the building plan as presented to the voters.”
The school district started a separate fund to account for generated revenue from the tax. In addition, the Sales Surtax Oversight Committee was launched in January to monitor how the tax dollars are spent. So far, the committee has held four meetings.
Committee members include representatives from the JAX Chamber, Northeast Florida Association of Realtors, Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police, Duval Teachers United and more.
City Council and School Board discuss the importance of working together
The sales tax revenue was discussed last week at a joint meeting between the school board and Jacksonville City Council. The meeting was meant to serve as an update and a way for the two groups to touch base with one another — they didn’t vote on anything.
The groups discussed the importance of working together. At one point, the councilmembers even presented Superintendent Greene with a plaque and announced a proclamation acknowledging her title of Florida Superintendent of the Year.
“You’re always our Superintendent of the year and every day,” City Council President Tommy Hazouri said.
The last time the two groups met in a similar forum, the mood was a lot different.
Almost exactly a year ago, school board and councilmembers were in the middle of a heated debate regarding whether Duval Schools should be able to put the half-cent sales tax referendum on a special election ballot or not.
“It was a really great opportunity for us to get together this time last year, there was a lot going on,” School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Andersen said. “I look forward to working together.
After months of back-and-forth, a settled lawsuit and a general election ballot, the sales tax ultimately passed.
Focus on more transparency
Greene also announced a new piece of technology the school district was working on to add even more transparency to sales tax spending.
Her team previewed an elaborate online dashboard that will allow users to see how much sales tax revenue has been collected and how it’s being spent by school zone or a specific school.
In the live-demo, Greene’s team showed filters that could be clicked to sort revenue by new school buildings being built with individual breakdowns, plan and design status, monthly updates, project phase updates and more, all adjusting live as things develop.
“It’s still in development but will provide a comprehensive tool,” Paul Soares, the Assistant Superintendent of Operations, said. “It should be a very viable tool.”
The district expects to launch the dashboard in May, Pierce said. School Board Chairwoman Andersen called it a great way to continue showing transparency.
Other projects in the pipeline include a partnership between Duval Schools and JEA to establish a pipeline employee program.
Featured image: Volunteers wave at traffic with signs supporting the half-cent sales tax for school improvements Monday, October 26, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. Will Dickey/Florida Times-Union