Two years ago, the Duval County School Board began a public process to fix dilapidated schools, many of which have served well past their expected building lives.
Duval Schools Superintendent Diana Greene arrived last July and moved at a pace rarely seen in government. She and her team picked up right where our former superintendent, Patricia Willis, left off.
In less than a year the district completed the engineering study begun under Willis, presented the results to the community, developed initial facility plan proposals and received extensive public input on those proposals. The plan was completed and will be on the School Board’s July 2 agenda for final action.
The culmination of this incredible effort should be a democratic process to give voters the final say. Unafraid of democracy, the School Board took action to move the question to voters and let them decide what kind of schools we want for our community. But in contrast to every other county in Florida, it is the City Council, not the School Board, that is the ultimate jury on holding a referendum — and the City Council has voted to wait.
As schools literally crumble, as safety and security needs continue to grow, as pipes burst and air conditioning fails, your City Council has responded by saying this:
Readers and voters may be confused; they may recall that the Florida Constitution says the School Board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district. And so we all thought — until the city’s lawyers crafted a bizarre interpretation of law swinging control of this issue to the City Council.
And so we wait.
We didn’t wait to build the arena or the courthouse. We didn’t wait to bail the city out of its pension mess. We shouldn’t wait to give voters the same opportunity to make choices for their schools.
I want to thank our real estate community, our builders, our parent groups, our teachers, alumni groups, the NAACP, local pastors, pastor groups and so many others for their work in helping us get to this point.
We wait together.
The School Board has demonstrated that it is not afraid of the democratic process, and I have full confidence in our ability to bring our case to the voters.
The City Council didn’t need to make this their issue, but now it is. And there is a simple remedy:
Let the voters decide.
(Editor's Note - The piece above originally ran as a guest column in the Florida Times Union on June 21, 2019.)