Struggling with Increased Costs and Open Seats, Duval Schools Weigh New Closings. Which Ones Will Go?

Struggling with Increased Costs and Open Seats, Duval Schools Weigh New Closings. Which Ones Will Go? | Future Education Magazine


Source – Jacksonville Today

Strained by budget overruns, Duval County school officials are contemplating the closure of dozens of schools whose futures seemed secure after voters greenlit a half-penny sales tax for building improvements in 2020.

The proposed closures could see the end of two high schools—Westside High and A. Philip Randolph Career Academies—and beloved grade schools such as Atlantic Beach Elementary and John Stockton Elementary, the latter ranked as the county’s second-best elementary and 50th in the state by U.S. News & World Report last year.

However, the list of endangered schools remains fluid and subject to change before School Board members schedule public meetings to outline reasons for the closures and gather feedback.

“It’s being iterated and changed as we speak,” said School Board Chair Darryl Willie on Thursday, hinting at a potential timeframe for public engagement this week. The School Board has yet to approve any new closures, with members expressing concerns about proposals presented last month by administrators working under Superintendent Dana Kriznar. Nonetheless, a looming gap in construction funding, estimated at up to $1.4 billion, is pushing members toward difficult decisions.

Dire Financial Outlook Sparks Reassessment of Duval County School Plans

“We’ve got a financial scenario on our hands that just is not going to end well if we don’t adjust,” remarked School Board member Kelly Coker during a workshop last month.

The threatened buildings were all slated for improvements, ranging from routine maintenance to complete replacement, under the $1.9 billion facilities initiative dubbed “the Bold Plan,” adopted by the board in 2019 and partly funded by the sales tax. Several other schools were already scheduled for closure as part of the Bold Plan, aimed at addressing both the deterioration of aging schools and declining enrollment countywide.

The Bold Plan originally included the construction of 28 new schools, some of which are currently under construction. However, school officials began reassessing the initiative last fall after costs at initial projects funded by the sales tax ballooned so significantly that completing the entire work list was projected to cost $3.9 billion—more than double the figure presented to voters before the tax was approved. There have been no proposals to increase or extend the sales tax.

Balancing Community Needs with Financial Realities

Instead, Kriznar’s team has floated the idea of school closures and consolidations, framing them as measures to strengthen “feeder patterns” and minimize disruptions for neighborhood children as they progress through higher grades.

Despite the financial strain and difficult decisions ahead, school officials emphasize the need for transparency and community involvement in the process.

As the School Board continues to grapple with the budget shortfall and potential closures, stakeholders are anxiously awaiting further developments, hopeful for solutions that prioritize the educational needs of Duval County school students while navigating the financial challenges at hand.

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