Silence Speaks Volumes

There are times when what isn’t said tells the story. That was the case at the July 31 organizational meeting of the Jacksonville Charter Revision Commission, where no mention was made of the previous CRC’s decade-old recommendation that a politically appointed school board replace the current elected board. Still, thanks to maneuvers by city powerbrokers (see Florida Rep. Jason Fischer’s new local bill) and veiled signals by the incoming CRC members, Duval public schools now appear to be at greater risk of takeover than before.

The CRC meets every decade to see if the consolidated government structure established in 1968 needs tweaking, so the first order of business for freshman members was a history lesson on the subject of Consolidation. Again, what wasn’t said tells a story. The presentation gave token mention to the unfulfilled economic and infrastructural promises made to African-American communities for their important support in joining county and city governing bodies. Fact is, consolidation government’s half-century of neglect has contributed to a vicious cycle of joblessness, high crime, gun violence and other social issues in these communities, which directly contributes to the performance of public school students.

Ironically, then, some CRC members are convinced the answer to better education in those communities is to put a city official in charge. Though none of the incoming members specifically mentioned revisiting the controversial proposal—which was rejected a decade ago by the City Council—it is all too clear that this CRC will push for mayoral control of schools. Two CRC members alluded to and expressed veiled support for a school board takeover without ever saying the words. Significantly, these are people who run in circles close to city powerbrokers and the mayor’s office, and often rub elbows with proponents of charter schools and school vouchers.

Enter Jessica Baker. She’s the wife of Tim Baker, the chief political strategist for Mayor Lenny Curry, who wants to control the school system. Curry is behind maneuvers to thwart a proposed 2019 voter referendum on a half-cent sales tax to address long-neglected public school facilities with deteriorating conditions that impact learning. Baker told the group she saw no need to “recreate the wheel that has already been done for us on a lot of issues.” She suggests trying to improve on the former commission’s work and resubmitting it.

Her husband also happens to be the political advisor to several newly elected city councilmembers who get to vote up or down on CRC recommendations. Tim Baker made headlines recently for overtures to the school board chair; he pitched his services as a consultant who could usher through the referendum—for a consulting fee of $12,500 a month.

With the thumbprint of the Curry political machine on the majority of the newly elected City Council, and a CRC appointed by a Curry ally, the pins appear to be strategically aligned for a strike on public schools.

The other CRC member who wants to dust off the old CRC report is Heidi Jameson, who works for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. Members of that lobby group include political donors who sit on the powerful Jacksonville Civic Council (which also supports mayoral control of schools). Jameson is the director of business development for the JaxUSA Partnership, a division of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce that works to attract jobs and private capital investment to a seven-county region of Northeast Florida. She was appointed to the CRC by former City Councilman President (and Curry sycophant) Aaron Bowman. Bowman also happens to be senior vice president of JaxUSA.

Additional support for reviving dead CRC school proposals comes from Lyndsey Brock, who chairs the incoming commission. After the meeting, Brock told news media that he supports a review of prior recommendations that didn’t get passed—the majority of them having to do with schools. He seemed unconcerned by criticism that past CRC proposals for schools were unreliable because the deck was stacked with advocacy testimony and a noticeable absence of input from academic researchers. Brock wrote checks for $25,000 to the Republican Party of Duval in 2017, according to public records.

Matt Schellenberg, a termed-out city councilmember who now sits on the CRC, suggested bringing former CRC members in for a chat. Ali Korman, whose family has financial ties to KIPP charter schools, was named. A Folio Weekly story noted she and a majority of those on the CRC a decade ago had ties to groups that would benefit from school privatization and/or charter schools.

The next CRC meeting is tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Aug. 14 at a City Hall meeting room to be announced. Future meetings will be held at the same time every other week through September. Those meetings will determine areas of study by individual committees, whose recommendations will be presented to City Council in the first quarter of 2020.