Local leaders oppose J-1 bill

Local leaders oppose J-1 bill

It’s the time of year for new resolutions, but some City Council members are thinking back to past resolutions and what they might mean for voters and the local school district this coming November.

Last year, At-Large, Group 4 Councilman Matt Carlucci of San Marco introduced a resolution to the City Council that opposed a bill, called J-1, set to go before the state legislature during the upcoming 2020 session. The bill would allow voters to decide whether they want the Superintendent of Schools, a position currently held by Diana Greene, to continue to be appointed by the school board or to become an elected position. Had the resolution passed, it would have sent a strong message to the state legislature that the City Council wanted to keep the status quo.

That’s what other area leaders, such as District 14 Councilwoman Randy DeFoor, would like. DeFoor’s district covers Riverside, Ortega, Avondale, Murray Hill and beyond. DeFoor worries about a ballot that could become crowded with referendums and confusing language. She said she wants to see a professional in the position.

“The last time we had an elected superintendent, our school district had, or was on the cusp of, losing its accreditation,” she said. “Most cities want a highly qualified individual knowledgeable in the education sector as opposed to a politician. Having an elected superintendent will be a move backwards for our community and not forwards.”

The vote for Carlucci’s resolution was a tie, which meant the resolution failed. Now, members of the divided City Council are left wondering what the legislature will decide to do with the bill after the holidays. Carlucci and DeFoor are strongly opposed to it, as is City Council Vice President Tommy Hazouri. But City Council President Aaron Bowman was more ambiguous, saying that “The J-1 Bill sends it to the voters so it’s a voter issue, not a City issue, so I will cast my vote at the polls if it gets there.” Yet others on the City Council, such as District 6 Councilman Michael Boylan, say they don’t want an elected superintendent as such, but they’d rather let the voters decide how they’d like to get their superintendent.

“When the J-1 Bill was initially introduced, it called for a referendum that would make the school board members a mayor-appointed body. Needless to say, I opposed the idea completely,” Boylan said. He went on to say that when State Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, changed the bill so that it would allow voters to decide on the process to hire a superintendent, he voted against Carlucci’s resolution.

“I believe an elected superintendent is a very bad idea,” Boylan explained. “I decided to vote no (to the resolution) on principle as I believe that voters should be given every opportunity to express their opinion where it matters the most – the ballot box.”

Hazouri agreed with letting the voters decide – most of the time, that is.

“I understand to always let the people vote, but generally, it’s where money is concerned, like tolls or sales tax,” he said.  “In this case, it shouldn’t be (to appoint) someone who has enough money to run and maybe even win but has no background in educational supervision. That does a disservice to the children.”

Hazouri was on the school board and was later replaced by Fischer. He firmly believes that the School Board should appoint the superintendent and that the position calls for a professional with a background in education management rather than someone with money or political pull.

“In the past, when we had an elected superintendent, we were disaccredited, and I think it speaks volumes,” he noted.

Carlucci, who grew up in San Marco, remembers well. He was attending Duval County public schools at that time, and he recalls that they were also disaccredited. He said that he, like DeFoor, doesn’t want to go backwards. He supports residents voting on a school sales tax, but not a school superintendent.

“The publicly elected School Board should select the superintendent,” he said. “We need the most qualified professional educator from around the country, not someone who can win a local election. Duval County is a large, urban school system which needs a professional leader with exceptional skills and experience that may not be found locally.”

Either way, the fate of the bill will remain in limbo until the legislature begins its 2020 session early this year.

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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