The first annual report of the Duval Schools Sales Tax Oversight Committee is out

Despite concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic and labor shortages could impact sales tax revenue, the Duval County School District is actually ahead of schedule with collections of $110 million to come last year, according to the first annual report of the sales and surtax monitoring committee. .

The committee – tasked with overseeing how sales tax money is spent – ​​has also doubled down on concerns about how charter schools spend their required share of collections and wants to see more transparency in the future. .

The committee – which is made up of 22 members, including two non-voting members, Superintendent Diana Greene and a student government representative – first met in January 2021.

Construction in progress

A model of the new Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary School building, which is funded by the half-cent Duval sales tax.

The committee’s report highlights the school district’s needs that sparked the sales tax campaign in the first place, including the age of school buildings — some of the oldest in the entire state — and funding cuts to the state who contributed to a backlog of $243 million in maintenance.

Sales tax revenue will support Greene’s facilities master plan, which includes building 27 new schools, improving safety and technology throughout the district, major repairs and renovations, and the elimination of school laptops throughout the district.

To date, dozens of projects are underway and some, such as security upgrades, have already been completed.

Continued:It has been a year since the Duval Schools Sales Tax was launched. How are things going?

But declining enrollment at traditional schools — brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and other environmental factors — coupled with rising enrollment at charter schools could force changes to the current facility master plan.

According to an audit that was discussed at a school board workshop in January, the plans of at least 20 schools could be affected. The conversations are still in the preliminary stages and would depend on student enrollment surveys conducted later this year and next year.

Continued:Decline in student enrollment at Duval schools could prompt sales tax master plan changes

Still, the report’s findings were not shared with the oversight committee until a Times-Union reporter asked members about the potential changes. The audit and any changes are also not mentioned in the annual report.

Sales tax generates $110 million in 2021

A mockup of a woman looking at the Duval Schools Sales Tax Dashboard, which helps community members understand what sales taxes are for.

Duval Schools released a comprehensive Project Status Dashboard last year that allows anyone to track the status of new construction and construction along with an estimate of how much money the sales tax has raised. nowadays. Since sales tax receipts are distributed on a quarterly basis, the dollar figures are not always live.

The Oversight Committee’s annual report reveals that in total, the sales tax generated $110 million for the whole of 2021.

“We are proud that the sales tax generated $110 million, which is ahead of schedule,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Hank Rogers.

On average, the sales tax generated about $7.9 million each month, matching the district’s original projections of between $6.6 million and $8 million per month over the 15-year tax.

Oversight of charter schools remains an issue

Of the $110 million raised, about $14 million went to charter schools in the district, which under state law are entitled to sales tax revenue per pupil.

There were 30 charters eligible to receive some of the sales tax money last year. This number is expected to increase as more charter schools appear in Jacksonville.

As previously reported by the Times-Union, charter schools have more latitude than traditional public schools in how tax money can be spent. The sales tax campaign was based on capital expenditures, such as deferred maintenance, safety upgrades and construction.

Nate Monroe: Millions of Duval County school sales tax dollars flow into charter schools

But, members of the oversight committee have expressed concerns about the flexibility charter schools have to use revenue for operating expenses such as monthly rent payments and insurance, as well as the lack of checks and balances. in place when it comes to holding charter schools accountable for how the money is spent.

“While we appreciate the reports from the district, the oversight committee continues to be concerned about the lack of transparency in reporting from some of our charter schools,” the report said.

According to the new annual report, charter schools are allowed to use sales tax revenue on five categories that traditional schools are not allowed to allocate funds to:

  • Purchase of relocatable
  • Purchase of student transport vehicles
  • Purchase of insurance
  • Motor vehicles
  • Multimedia collections

In the report, the committee recommended that the school board and Greene work with an outside agency to develop a scorecard that tracks and explains how charter schools spend their share of sales tax revenue, similar to the scorecard. existing in the district.

Other recommendations of the oversight committee

outraged Wanting more accountability regarding how charter schools spend sales tax money, the oversight committee included several recommendations in its report regarding transparency about how the public is informed about the money spent.

Recommendations include using social media, newsletters and even encouraging council members to update the community on current master plan projects and upcoming revenue, “instead of relying on the site. Web of half a penny”.

The committee also wants the district to obtain “Your Half Penny at Work” signs and post them in front of schools that have active levy-funded projects.

Other recommendations include the district fostering engagement and opportunities with underrepresented groups and small businesses. The committee also asks Greene or the school board to get an outside opinion on how sales tax funds can be spent.

Emily Bloch is an education reporter for the Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or send him an e-mail. Subscribe to his newsletter.

Sallie R. Loera