Northeast Florida is one of the greatest places in the world to live, work and play. The fantastic year around weather allows the ultimate enjoyment of fishing, boating, tennis, golf… you name it.
For the most part, the business climate is not too bad, with low corporate income taxes, no personal income tax, a city and state government that is trying to reduce permitting delays and access to a labor market trained by the U.S. Navy.
But when it comes to a homegrown workforce, an employee pool educated in Duval County Schools… well, that’s another story.
Over the past few years, we have seen a Duval County School Board that oversaw…
- the selection of a superintendent who was hired even though he left his previous school district in a mess, then firing him in a messy settlement, and then having our system left in shambles;
- the hiring of an unproven interim superintendent who 1) spent additional money on questionable public relations; 2) held back knowledge of a $100 million emergency fund, while the board had to cuts jobs, school transportation and magnet schools and parents had to conduct fundraisers to save high school sports; and 3) presided over the last two issues listed here;
- the failure of four local schools, and after searching for an outside source to run the schools for them, the state board decided let Duval try to run the schools again for another year;
- the school system by flagged by the state for misapplying $2.7 million of federal grant money in Title 1 to pay teachers’ salaries.
With an on-going track record of poor performance by this board, it is surprising that there is very little outrage from the community, and little notice of what is happening with our schools, outside of the investigative articles in the Florida Times Union.
The school board appears to lack answers for solving the problems of educating Jacksonville children. When you look at the make-up of this board, you will find it is filled with want-to-be career politicians and those failed politicians who found the school board as an elected option to land on.
However, no matter how inept this board may or may not be, you cannot place the entire blame on them. You can first blame Duval County parents. If there were enough public pressure placed on this board, things could change. Secondly, area businesses are also to blame. They too could put pressure on board members and put their discretionary community funds to use to make a difference.
I realize this is a broad brush and that there are individuals and companies in the community who are going the extra step to remedy these problems, with outstanding work from individuals such as Gary Chartrand, the executive chairman and former CEO of Acosta, Inc. But regardless of a few extraordinary individuals, the community has to step up and take responsibility.
Obviously, we have a moral commitment to our children to provide them with quality education. But we also have a commitment to our existing businesses and the companies we recruit to Jacksonville to provide them with a highly educated workforce.
If you reside in Duval County, please make sure you are registered to vote in the school board elections. But don’t just vote. Too many candidates are elected because their name is familiar or they can afford a big money campaign.
Analyze each candidate and see what he or she can bring to the school board table. And if you’re not sure what they can do, ask them. Either through emails, chat rooms on their website or even a phone call. Education in Jacksonville is far too important to take for granted.
And yes, the presidential election is probably the most critical election we will have, perhaps in our lifetime. But so is the school board election. This is the future of our children’s education. And it is the future of business growth and economic opportunities for citizens in our community.