The Duval County Public Schools Sales-Surtax Oversight Committee is supposed to monitor expenditures from the district's half-cent sales tax. | News4JaxThe Duval County Public Schools Sales-Surtax Oversight Committee is supposed to monitor expenditures from the district's half-cent sales tax. | News4Jax
The Duval County Public Schools Sales-Surtax Oversight Committee is supposed to monitor expenditures from the district's half-cent sales tax. | News4Jax

Chairman resigns from school tax oversight committee

Published on May 23, 2024 at 11:18 am

There are questions about the independence of a citizens committee tasked with overseeing the Duval County Public School’s use of funds from the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2020.

The chair of that committee resigned Wednesday after receiving pushback for trying to advocate for more transparency in how charter schools spend their share of those tax dollars, News4Jax reported.

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This all comes as the district is considering potentially closing dozens of schools as dropping enrollment and rising construction costs have created a billion-dollar shortfall for planned school construction and renovations.

Committee members were frustrated, noting when taxpayers voted for this half-cent sales tax, the referendum explicitly said an “independent citizens committee” would monitor expenditures.

Now, they feel like the School Board is blocking their attempt to do that.

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Donald Green announced his resignation as chair of the Duval County Public Schools Sales-Surtax Oversight Committee on Wednesday and said he’s concerned about the committee’s independence.

“That really bothered me that there was no independence that we do not have the ability to speak as a committee,” Green said.

This comes after the school district blocked the committee from enacting a resolution it passed in February, requesting state lawmakers pass legislation to “require charter schools receiving voter-approved, voluntary sales surtax funds to provide the public with a detailed accounting of all expenditures made with those funds.”

According to the district’s dashboard, through December, the district received about $363 million through the sales tax and about $60 million of that went to charter schools.

“We just wanted them to look into it and say, look, for Duval County, we’re talking billions of dollars. If you can close this loophole, it will provide us the means to have proper oversight,” Green said.

In response to the committee’s resolution, the School Board’s attorney wrote back, “While I recognize that you and other members of the Committee have the right as citizens to express your opinions when speaking individually, you do not have that same right when speaking collectively as the Committee.”

The attorney also said the committee dosen’t have the authority to pass resolutions, especially about policy, writing “matters of policy are reserved exclusively to our elected officials.”

Per board policy, the committee is responsible for:

  • Reviewing and monitoring the district’s progress and implementation of the projects funded by the sales tax for district schools and charter schools.
  • Advising the superintendent and School Board of the district’s progress in implementation of the of sales tax projects.
  • Assisting in informing the community of the sales tax projects and their progress.
  • Making recommendations on the use of any surplus sales tax revenue.

But surplus isn’t the issue. In fact, a lack of funds is leading the district to reevaluate its master facilities plan.

This month, the School Board voted to narrow the committee’s responsibilities to only the items laid out in the board policy, also adding the line, “All policy matters are expressly reserved to the Duval County School Board.”

“We don’t have transparency from certain entities taking taxpayer dollars, so when we hear people upset about why are schools closing, why are we having changes with the facilities plan, how are we using the money, how as a committee do we answer we’ve done what we were instructed to do, without saying there’s clearly a problem?” said Stephanie Schaap, a member of the Sales-Surtax Oversight Committee.

The board’s attorney also noted in his letter the committee could express their concerns at a regular School Board meeting or in an annual report to the board.

“Well, we wanted to make a recommendation to not just the School Board, we wanted to make a recommendation to the governor, to the legislature, to say Duval County, the taxpayers voted to give their money to improve our schools. And during that resolution, it said that, you know, if you vote for this, we’re going to have an independent committee that oversees it. We thought that was important. But if we can’t have the information, how can we provide the oversight?” Green said.

The committee plans to meet again in June and No. 1 on the agenda will be, what happened the committee’s designation as “independent” and are they really independent from the School Board?

A spokesperson for the school district said, “We appreciate Dr. Green’s service and leadership in this role, and we respect his decision to resign.”

This story was produced by News4Jax, a Jacksonville Today news partner.


author image Anne Maxwell is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined News4Jax in August 2021. Anne previously worked at WSPA in Greenville, South Carolina, as a reporter and fill-in anchor.
author image Anne Maxwell is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined News4Jax in August 2021. Anne previously worked at WSPA in Greenville, South Carolina, as a reporter and fill-in anchor.

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