Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

School Board Hikes Taxes, Public Silent

The Duval County School Board voted to raise the millage rate a quarter Tuesday night with nary a complaint from Jacksonville residents.  In contrast to the outpouring of e-mails flooding into City Hall mailboxes and the online and organized protests over the Mayor’s proposed increase—only a handful of residents turned up to voice concerns over an increase in the portion of the millage rate used to fund education.  To be sure, the increase levied by the School Board was smaller than the City’s proposal, but nevertheless, in a town known for its anti-tax sentiments, it is surprising that the increase received such little notice from taxpayers.

While public support for education is certainly strong, many have expressed concerns in the past over the expenditure of taxpayer dollars by the school board.  In fact, one of the most widely-read JaxPoliticsOnline.com columns over the past year was written by one of our former contributors who had expressed reservations over the size and expense of the administration housed on Prudential Drive.

Board members W. C. Gentry and Stan Jordan expressed their opposition to a tax hike without specifically designating the increased revenue raised be directed towards reserves.  The Times-Union article on the meeting can be read here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

School Board To Consider Tax Increase on Tuesday

According to Mary Kelli Palka of The Florida Times-Union, the Duval County School Board will vote hold a vote on Tuesday to address whether or not the board will increase the millage rate to fund reserves. The board is concerned that further cuts in education may be coming from the state and they wish to increase the county’s reserves to deal with that possibility.

According to an earlier article in the Times-Union, a majority of the board is leaning towards supporting the increase.  The vote will require an endorsement of five of the seven members of the board.

Read the Times-Union article here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

School Funding in the Tank

The Save Duval Schools organization has been making the rounds to alert Duval County citizens about the lack of school funding. While lawmakers pat themselves on the back for protecting public schools, the fact is that school budgets for the upcoming year will be held together with duct tape and paper clips; or rather, federal stimulus dollars and local property taxes.

Legislators (in a sleight of hand) say they’re boosting per-pupil spending for the upcoming school year. In reality, state funding is going down – way down. Here in Duval County, it will drop by about $500 per student according to Save Duval Schools.

What will happen when the federal stimulus funds disappear in 2 years and local property tax revenues which go to fund schools continue to drop like a rock?

Filed under: Jacksonville, ,

Save Duval Schools

A familiar face is heading up a new grass roots effort to save Duval County Schools from severe budget cuts by the Florida Legislature.  Deborah Gianoulis, a former Channel 4 news anchor, is heading up Save Duval Schools.


“Save Duval Schools is our intent to draw a line in the Florida sand,” said Deborah Gianoulis, a former news anchor at WJXT. “We will not accept any further erosion of Florida public school funding.”

Parents and administrators are forming a grassroots initiative hoping to put more pressure on lawmakers currently trying to balance the state’s budget despite a multibillion-dollar drop in state revenue.

“I think this is the only way that we can reach Tallahassee and rise above the voices of lobbyists,” Gianoulis said.

Florida’s school system regularly finishes last in rankings of state spending on public education. After six budget cuts over the past two years, the Florida Legislature is considering cuts of another $150 million in funding of Duval County schools, and corresponding reductions in other counties across the state.

“When the community at large says this is a crisis and we have to all get behind this, even if we don’t have kids in public schools, that’s significant and important,” Gianoulis said.

Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals and members of the Duval County School Board were among those who turned out Wednesday morning to kick off the effort. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Jacksonville, , , ,

High Priced Administrators at the Duval County School Board

As Duval County School administrators brainstorm over how they will deal with a projected $112 million cut in funding, they have tossed out a number of recommendations, including:

  • A hiring freeze to save $1.5 million
  • Impose central management of funds and close dormant purchase orders to save $5.5 million (You would think they would already have this implemented!)
  • Renegotiate contracts with employees to save $8.1 million
  • Stop televised broadcasts of School Board meetings to save $315,000 (Of course, in this day of webcasts and podcasts one can only imagine why the DCSB needs to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make themselves accessible to the community.  Just stick a webcam in the back of the room and put it on a webcast.  Or, just tape it and stick it on YouTube.  FOR FREE!)

One of the things that hasn’t been mentioned; however, has been any reduction in the salaries and benefits of Administrators.  Or, for that matter, any reduction in the number of Administrative Staff.  In February 2008, Ed Pratt-Dannals saw his salary bumped 73% to an annual salary of $275,000 when he took the Superintendent’s slot from Joey Wise.  (Of course, the School Board also paid $275,000 to get rid of Wise.  By the way…weren’t they going to try to recover some of that severance package based on a breach of contract?)  In addition to Mr. Pratt-Dannals salary, 37 other Duval County School employees make in excess of $100,000 and 299 make in excess of $75,000.  

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

Looking for Answers to the Schools’ $112 Million Budget Crisis

Our school leaders and the Duval Delegation members met yesterday at the Schultz Center, but they don’t appear to be any closer to resolving the school budget crisis than they were before the meeting, in part because no one seems to be able to get a handle on the actual amount of state revenues that will be available for budgeting purposes.

In anticipation of proposed budget cuts, now projected to be $112 million (the worst funding shortfall in 40 years), the Superintendent has come up with a prioritized list of possible budget cutting measures.  Here are the top ten cost cutting ideas (which would save the school system just over $22 million):
1. Impose central management of funds & close dormant purchase orders – $5.5 million
2. Impose an immediate hiring freeze – $1.5 million
3. Potential savings via ACE Initiative from School Consolidation – $700,000
4. Revised delivery methods for warehouse, print shop, textbooks – $500,000
5. Revised delivery methods & level of service Security Operations – $385,000
6. Televised Board Meetings – $315,000
7. District wide Energy Savings – $250,000
8. Restructure Debit Health Card and Flex Spending (requires contract negotiations) – $4 million
9. Reduction of Health Care Benefits Phase I (requires contract negotiations) – $4.1 million
10. Transportation savings via ACE Initiative – $4.8 million

Click here for the Superintendent’s entire proposed and prioritized budget cutting measures.

The Duval County School system has also begun a series of public meetings in the community on the budget crisis.  A meeting was held last night at Wolfson High School.  The remainder of the community meetings begin at 6pm and are scheduled as follows:

Tues., Feb. 24, Ribault High, 3701 Winton Dr., Jacksonville  
Wed., Feb. 25, Ed White High, 1700 Old Middleburg Rd., Jacksonville
Thurs., March 5, Sandalwood High, 2750 John Prom Blvd., Jacksonville

Filed under: Jacksonville, ,

School Board Budget Cut Workshop

The school board will be meeting today (Thursday) in a workshop at 10am in the 6th floor conference room at the School Board building.  The School Superintendent will be presenting proposed options to meet the  upcoming budget deficit which is projected to be somewhere around $139 million.  The Superintendent outlined prioritized tiers of potential cuts and changes to the education program to the Duval County Council PTA/PTSA on Tuesday of this week and it wasn’t very pretty. 

As we have already reported here, one change being considered is to do away with block scheduling and the 8 credit program and return to a 7 credit program.  [Also see FCN story] As we also previously reported, Mr. Pratt Dannals was the original proponent and one of the biggest block schedule supporters when Duval County schools changed to block scheduling approximately 10 years ago.  So it is interesting to see him flip-flop on an issue that used to be so near and dear to his heart – and was good for Duval County’s students and education system as well.  This change would save the school system approximately $10 million dollars as they would be able to do away with teachers no longer needed.  Depending on how layoffs proceed, that could result in a longer tenured PE teacher staying with the school system and filling the former position of a shorter tenured history teacher who was let go in the layoff.  That couldn’t be a good for our students now, could it?

One of the other top tier options is to do away with bus transportation currently provided to magnet schools.  The school board will also look at changing the distance you must live from the school to be eligible for bus transportation from 1 1/2 miles to 2 miles, which would result in an additional savings of approximately $500,000. [Times Union]

And, as we also previously reported here, the school system is considering the following cuts as well:

Some of the items being considered as cuts to Duval County Public Schools’ budget for the next fiscal year:
Reducing arts, music, guidance, P.E. and media staff: $27 million
Reducing employees’ hours: $20 million
Adjusting scheduling for high schools and middle schools: $10 million
Reducing health care benefits: $9 million
No raises or step raises: $8.8 million
Reducing AP classes in schools: $5 million
Immediate hiring freeze: $1 million
Stop televising board meetings: $315,000
Close the Marine Science Center: $180,000
Source: Duval County Public Schools [Times Union]

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

DCSB looking at ways to address school funding cuts

In efforts to address the budget cuts rcently passed by the Legislature, the Duval County School Board, along with Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals, have been discussing various options to meet declining funding.  As you may know, the School Board had intended to shut down three elementary schools that were underattended. However, last night they decided to only close one – saving $770,000.  Unfortunately, the school system is facing a $140 million shortfall for the next budget year.

Another option the Board is considering is changing the school schedule for high school students and getting rid of block scheduling.   This option would result in the loss of one credit per year and save the school system $10 million.   Students would only lose one elective they say.  The school superintendent suggested that they could just drop one of two foreign language credits.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Of course it does – until you find out that the recommendation to cut one of the two foreign language credits would leave Duval County students unqualified for a Bright Futures Scholarship  or to enter the State’s university system

But if even if some other elective could be chosen to be dropped, shortening the day and losing an elective would still be disastrous for the magnet schools.  Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Jax hearts Jack Daniels

Except when he’s on a ballot…

Perennial candidate Jack Daniels didn’t bother with fundraising for his recent Duval County School Board race against W. C. Gentry.  After all, when you’ve have as many unsuccessful runs for office as Mr. Daniels has, donors are probably rather scarce.  Fresh off his losing bid for City Council District 11 seat (that featured Jay Jabour-style residency charges), Mr. Daniels pumped another $33,76.64 of his own money into the School Board District 3 race.  He spent $29,510.47 of that money, equating to a cost of $1.41 per vote.  As much as Mr. Daniels has spent of his personal money trying to obtain elected office in Duval County, he might receive more recognition with a lump-sum donation to the Salvation Army.  Who knows?  They may even be willing to name a building after him.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , ,

Stan Jordan’s Manueverings

As previously discussed, it would appear that Stan Jordan is entertaining the possibility of not serving his full term on the Duval County School Board.  As of the last pre-election filing, Mr. Jordan had raised $34,675.35 for the School Board race.  His expenditures only totaled $13,338.79, leaving seed money of $21,336.56 to jump-start a future race…

Filed under: Florida Legislature, Jacksonville, , ,

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