• Oversight committee proposed to monitor DCPS, $1.08 billion spending plan to improve schools

    By: Courtney Cole , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Story published 7/10/19:

    If the half-cent sales tax referendum for Duval County Public Schools is approved by the City Council, who is going to make sure it's being spent properly? That's the question people are now asking about the next step in the process of improving schools in Duval County.

    QUICK FACTS: 

    • In December, Action News Jax reported that DCPS needs to repair all 158 of its school buildings, with a nearly $2 billion price tag.
    • The Master Facilities plan has a 15-year timeline that could rely on voters passing a half-cent sales tax proposal.
    • The Duval County School District says its school buildings are some of the oldest in Florida.
    • The average age of the school buildings is almost 60 years, according to Warren Jones, the vice chair of the Duval County School Board.
    • The Assistant Superintendent of Operations said the district was working to maintain these buildings with a lack of funding.

    The Duval County School District is moving forward with plans for a half-cent sales tax even though it may not make the ballot this year.

    “We understand the referendum on the ballot is currently in the hands of the City Council, but we're going to continue to do our work -- and due diligence -- so that we're prepared for when the referendum passes,” said Lori Hershey, the chairwoman of the Duval County School Board.

    Action News Jax Courtney Cole talked to Hershey about forming what’s called the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee.

    But don’t let the long title confuse or intimidate you.

    The Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee is just a name for a group that can act as the check-and-balance when it comes to how the school board plans to spend the $1.08 billion Cole has been telling you about.

    $1.08 billion is a lot of money.

    That's why the Duval County School Board created and approved a 23-paged Master Facility Plan.
    It explains how the money would be used in each district.

    But how do we know it's actually going to be spent that way?

    According to Hershey, the money will be spent exactly as intended with the help of what’s called the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee.

    "There's a best practice out there and we certainly want to follow the best practices,” Hershey told Action News Jax Courtney Cole.

    Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties already have them. 

    On Tuesday, the school board met to review those policies and brainstorm how they could put a committee together for Duval County.

    "We wanted to signal to the community that we are moving forward with our intent and our plan,” Hershey said.

    The committee, which is required by state statute,  would be made up of 21 members total.
    "We have representation of a variety of community members—as well as each board member would assign someone to serve,” said Hershey.

    Now remember, if City Council approves adding this question to the ballot and enough voters approve, 
    the half-cent sales tax would be in place for 15 years and generate $1.3 billion. Hershey says the board would be around much longer to see all the projects through.

    Related: DCPS suggests proposals for aging school improvements, replacementDuval County Public Schools outlines a solution for aging school | DCPS previews “Facilities Master Plan” for aging schools | Duval County Public Schools discusses how to fund nearly $2 billion to repair, replace schools | Duval County Public School Board to vote on half-cent sales tax to fund repairs, new schools | School board passes plan for half-cent sales tax to upgrade Duval County schools | DCPS proposes $1.9 billion master plan to fix aging schools | DCPS fires back about claim that its plan to improve buildings is ‘excessively expensive’

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