Looming Duval school closures prompt community members, parents to make their voices heard

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Many people are worried about the looming school closures and staffing cuts in Duval County. And tonight, dozens of community members came to make their voices heard at the Jacksonville Branch NAACP a town hall.


“To hear 30 schools could be on the chopping block to face 1.4 billion dollars is important conversation to have,” Jacksonville Branch NAACP Vice President Hank Rogers said.

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Duval Schools is facing some major challenges especially with its budgets. It’s causing a ripple effect, and parents say they understand changes needs to happen, but they need to get informed before it does.

Monique Tookes has four kids in Duval County schools, and says she knows it’s not just about what’s best for her kids, but for all kids.

“We are going to have to make some changes – that’s just reality,” Tookes said. “Nobody wants their schools closed, however if we’re going to close, if we’re going to consolidate, we have to have a sustainability program of what’s that’s going to look like. That’s what for me is the greatest takeaway is – there is still more conversations to be had.”

Acting superintendent Dr. Dana Kriznar and Board Chair Darryl Willie came out to answer questions and offer some clarity.

“I’m here because I need to be here,” Willie said. “It’s the only way to make a decision, and I need to hear what you guys have to say.”

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“We made promises to this group and others as well and we intend to keep these promises to you,” Dr. Kriznar said.

Tonight, parents learned about how an outside consultant came up with the proposal to shut down than 30 schools. But, nothing is concrete at this time.

“At the end of the day, my hope is that community input will be involved, but we have to make some of the tough decisions if we have to make them, if it’s going to be the best for students,” Willie said.

The new forecasted budget predicts a $1.4 billion gap in the funding available to the district. A lot of factors went into causing the current challenges, including the district cutting more than more than 700 positions.

“It’s a changing educational landscape, Willie said. “If you look back to 2019, we’ve started to decrease enrollment, new educational options, vouchers that are coming into play. So, we’ve seen a lot happen since we did the millage and the half-penny sales tax. We are staying abreast and I think we have to make sure that we’re being responsible when it comes to these taxpayer dollars and that’s what we’re doing.”

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Willie and Kriznar say the vouchers is one of the major reasons why we’re here today

During the meeting, Kriznar said over 800 students accepted vouchers and ended up back into neighborhood schools because the charter schools didn’t work out. She said they ended up not being able to fund those hundreds of students.

“In order to compete, we owe it to community to actually build these new schools,” Willie said. “One of the reasons we went for the half-penny is because we have some of the oldest schools in the state, and it’s great to have the nostalgia of those schools that you went to back in the day. But my kids – my six-year-old, my eight-year-old - they need to be going to schools that are state-of the art, that are innovative and you have all the resources.”

Rogers says he got some clarity tonight.

“I think we understand at the end of the day how we get here with the declining enrollment – I understand that,” Roger said. “We understand the impact of that charter schools are now having on our school district, and we also understand how the vouchers, and how that has ballooned and how that has really impacted our district.”

This is just the beginning of the conversation, and the school board welcomes all the feedback.

“We are excited to hear that we’re going to be at the table, but we want the community at the table to hear these important conversations, because it impacts all communities,” Rogers said.

Willie also mentioned the upcoming elections could change 4 seats on the board, and a new superintendent could play a role in what changes happen in the future.

But the school board won’t be making any final decision until the fall, after they’ve had more community input.

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