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Shine-Ing the Spotlight on What’s Really at Stake

Could ballot measure "domino" complete mayoral coup of school board?

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The Duval County Schools superintendent selection process has not been without controversy, but when school board member Scott Shine stormed out of a meeting Monday, fireworks exploded. It certainly piqued my curiosity, especially since it relates to a long-term goal of Jacksonville business leaders: to abolish our fully elected school board, and have the mayor appoint some or most of its members instead.

WJCT's Lindsey Kilbride broke the story on Twitter, noting that Shine didn't waste any time withdrawing his reelection candidacy for school board District 2 this November, leaving the seat with no candidates at this writing.

Monday's meeting had been scheduled for the purpose of narrowing down the job applicants' list from 26 to six. Shine was ostensibly upset with the speed of the superintendent selection process, just as I predicted—six months ago—that he would be. He wanted the board to slow its method of culling the contenders from many to one.

Last September, I warned readers to be on the lookout for three major happenings, including a move that could lead to a mayor-appointed school board in Duval County.

Prediction No. 1: That Jacksonville's donor class would urge a "slowing" of the schools' superintendent selection process. Our local business elite happens to overlap largely with Duval's school privatization proponents, and they'd be happier postponing the hiring of a new super until after the next set of school board elections—which, of course, they hope to influence.

Prediction No. 1 came to pass: The Florida Times-Union reported last December that "The Jacksonville Civic Council sent a letter to board members as they met Tuesday, asking them to wait to hire a new education leader until November 2018. The council said it wants the board's newly elected members to have a say in who is the next superintendent."

Prediction No. 2: That Scott Shine would echo the "slow it down" mantra. This has also come to pass.

But why would any self-respecting public servant storm out of a scheduled meeting and then withdraw his candidacy for reelection to that board? Is he hoping that his media stunt will capture the imagination of the local ruling political party, and maybe snag him an appointed seat somewhere down the road? Or is he merely hoping to play into the business-driven narrative about our "dysfunctional" school board? (Never mind that he's the one causing the dysfunction.)

Or is he looking at a new political job that the rest of us simply haven't figured out?

Regardless of Shine's motivation, there's still the matter of Prediction No. 3: That the city's donor class will look to shift to at least a partially mayor-appointed school board.

The businessperson pitching a sale always characterizes a problem, real or imagined, before selling the solution. "Wouldn't it be nice if our school board weren't so dysfunctional?" he asks. "Wouldn't it be nice to have a professional group of people running things?" he offers. When you hear this pitch from more than one businessperson in the community, as I have, it's safe to conclude there's an organized effort afoot.

Pesky democratic institutions—they're so messy. The new trend in America is to streamline operations, top-to-bottom, as if you owned them personally. As if you were Trump. Or Lenny Curry. Or any number of his contributors who regularly throw $25,000 to his PAC as casually as you or I might buy a cup of coffee.

It seems the constitutional amendment Mayor Curry and his friends need in order to dominate the Duval County School board is hidden in some arcane language about Government Structure, or proposed Amendment 10. It's the most boring thing you'll read on this November's ballot, but it's paired nicely with some tasty morsels about veterans and counterterrorism.

Who doesn't want to help veterans?

Who doesn't want to counter terrorism?

There's a bit about convening the legislature on the second Tuesday of even years, which no one cares about.

It's the other language that, if enacted, would be the kicker:

...[A] county charter may not abolish the office of a sheriff, a tax collector, a property appraiser, a supervisor of elections, or a clerk of the circuit court; transfer the duties of those officers to another officer or office; change the length of the four-year term of office; or establish any manner of selection other than by election by the electors of the county.

The only constitutional officers in Florida who aren't on that list are school board members. A separate provision, Article IX of the state constitution, governs school board elections, but any attempt to change that provision would have sounded too many alarms during the Constitutional Revision process, and likely would not have passed.

Is the Government Structure Amendment (likely No. 10 on our November ballot) a way of permitting structural changes to the school board through the back door?

If Amendment 10 passes, would those favoring the appointed school board, or the elected-appointed hybrid model, have enough coverage in the constitution to author a local ballot proposal that would in turn, if enacted, change our local city/county charter?

My prediction? Yes, enactment of Amendment 10 would give appointment-proponents in 2020 what they need to do that they couldn't do in 2010: change the manner in which we structure our school board. It will require a local city/county charter change, which would presumably go to the voters of the consolidated city of Jacksonville in 2020, taking effect in 2021.

If all this happens, and if Curry is re-elected, he'd be the lucky appointer. Depending on who else might be elected in a hybrid, elected-appointed school board scenario, the mayor could wield majority power via his appointments. It's a job he relishes, as we can see with recent developments regarding Kids' Hope Alliance and JEA.

Duval County is probably one of the most real-estate-rich school districts in the nation. It certainly covers the most land area.

Why not keep going until the mayor has control of all that real estate and a $1.7 million budget?

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