Image courtesy of WJCT.

BREAKING: Mayor and City Council Assume Direct Responsibility for School Building Issues

Duval County Public Schools’ $2 billion facilities master plan, which proposes a sales tax to give Jacksonville a much needed dedicated funding source for the maintenance of its aging school buildings, has been bafflingly controversial in City Hall. Not among the citizens, mind you, 75% of whom support the proposal. Though the plan could use some work, there’s nothing in it to justify or even explain the pushback coming from the St. James building.

Historically, the school board would simply send a proposal of this nature to City Council to put on an upcoming ballot, and it would be up to the voters to vet it. Democratic checks and balances, what a time that was! Now, however, the City Council has decided it is the gatekeeper for when and whether the voters get a say at all. Their position was bolstered by a memorandum from the city’s General Counsel, Jason Gabriel, who is not a human lawyer but rather a sentient weather vane that moves in the direction of the prevailing winds blowing out of the mayor’s office. Apparently, none of Florida’s other, human general counsels have made such a judgment in their jurisdictions.

City Council has spent the last weeks stonewalling the school district’s proposal, putting on the sealion act of peppering them with nearly 100 questions (100!) and generally faffing around so long that there may be no way for the proposal to get on the ballot in 2019. This doesn’t make a lick of sense. An educated populace is the foundation of a healthy society, so who wouldn’t support this obviously needed spending?

This storage closet at a Duval County high school is stocked mostly with perfect metaphors. Image courtesy of Duval teacher Brian McGee.

The City Council’s heel turn is bizarre for a couple of reasons. First, the council as a body hasn’t had any problem with wasting money on cockamamie plans before, even when said plans are, unlike the school district’s, directly under their purview. They supported the mayor’s plans to spend $8 million demolishing the City Hall annex and old courthouse with no replacement, and to spend $22 million and counting to turn the Jacksonville Landing into a field. And thus far they haven’t said boo about the mayor’s push to privatize JEA, something even JEA’s own website argues is a bad idea.

But more than that, City Hall has never wanted to take such a heavy, micromanaging hand to school board issues, for one reason: if they start getting seriously involved, they’ll be expected to actually deal with the school district’s various problems - and take the blame if they come up short.

Forward all issues directly to City Hall

Another image and apt metaphor courtesy of Duval teacher Brian McGee.

In other words, by removing the school board’s ability to deal with the district’s long-term building maintenance problems, City Hall and the Mayor are taking responsibility for those problems. As a result, they’re the natural point of contact for families facing issues in Jacksonville’s aging schools. Jacksonville resident Bill Hoff had an interesting suggestion in The Jaxson Mag forums the other day:

This seems like an extremely obvious campaign: when school begins soon, snap photos of all the maintenance problems and send them to the Mayor & City Council asking when they’re going to fix the problems, copying the local media. Make a hashtag in social media to collect the photos, get the teachers, highschool aged kids involved, parents of elementary kids, etc. Seems like such a gigantic vulnerability for COJ: they don’t want to be blamed for DCPS’s problems, but they’re owning them by denying DCPS a chance to correct them.

There you have it, Duval County School Board. A campaign that won’t cost us $12,000 a month. When school starts back up in a few weeks, encourage all your students, staff and parents to document all the issues they see with Duval school buildings. Take pictures of broken AC units, students sweltering in classrooms, leaking roofs, roach infestations, and anything else that needs taking care of. Forward them directly to the mayor and City Council members who have assumed the responsibility of handling these issues, asking for a firm date of when it will be taking care of. Make sure to copy the media - I’ll put together a photo gallery as a helpful reference for the mayor and Council. Take the pics to social media with some memorable hashtag - my suggestion is #FixDuvalSchools, which I think is pretty smart, but I’ve got like 12 Twitter followers, so don’t take my word for it. But above all, don’t stop until something gets done.

This serious water leak caused by a burst pipe at Mandarin High School is exactly the type of thing the Mayor and City Council have graciously assumed responsibility for. Image by Mandarin High School teacher Larry Yudin.

Useful contacts

Mayor Lenny Curry Phone: (904) 255-5000 Email:

District Council Members

District 1: Joyce Morgan Phone: (904) 255-5201 Email:

District 2: Al Ferraro Phone: (904) 255-5202 Email:

District 3: Aaron L. Bowman Phone: (904) 255-5203 Email:

District 4: Scott Wilson Phone: (904) 255-5204 Email:

District 5: LeAnna Cumber Phone: (904) 255-5205 Email:

District 6: Michael Boylan Phone: (904) 255-5206 Email:

District 7: Reggie Gaffney Phone: (904) 255-5207 Email:

District 8: Ju’Coby Pittman Phone: (904) 255-5208 Email:

District 9: Garrett L. Dennis Phone: (904) 255-5209 Email:

District 10: Brenda Priestly Jackson Phone: (904) 255-5210 Email:

District 11: Danny Becton Phone: (904) 255-5211 Email:

District 12: Randy White Phone: (904) 255-5212 Email:

District 13: Rory Diamond Phone: (904) 255-5213 Email:

District 14: Randy DeFoor Phone: (904) 255-5214 Email:

At-Large Council Members

Group 1: Terrance Freeman Phone: (904) 255-5215 Email:

Group 2: Ronald B. Salem Phone: (904) 255-5216 Email:

Group 3: Tommy Hazouri Phone: (904) 255-5217 Email:

Group 4: Matt Carlucci Phone: (904) 255-5218 Email:

Group 5: Samuel Newby Phone: (904) 255-5219 Email:

Editorial by J.D. McGregor. Contact J.D. at