Tallahassee End Run

State Rep. Jason Fischer’s HB 1079 (formerly local bill J-1) has been slowly congealing into law, with the objective of stripping our elected Duval County School Board of the power to scout and appoint the best possible superintendent—and its authority to keep that appointee accountable on the job. The best way to have the most suitable school superintendent is for the school board to interview, hire and (if needed) fire the top administrator for the school district.

Just as the JEA Board of Directors appoints its top administrator, the school board needs to continue to appoint its top administrator. Incompetent or unethical administrators can be removed immediately, as the JEA Board did with CEO Aaron Zahn. Perhaps the board removed Zahn due to public outcry, but the point is it was possible to immediately remove him. It is more difficult to remove elected officials.

HB 1079 (as approved by the majority of the Duval Delegation: Jason Fischer, Aaron Bean, Wyman Duggan, Cord Byrd, Clay Yarborough and Kimberly Daniels) is in violation of the local bill manual, which says local bills should not be used if the purpose can be accomplished at the local level. This local bill, HB 1079, is an attack on home rule.

The Jacksonville City Council can put initiatives on our ballot. As a matter of fact, they are contemplating one that would change the way the JEA Board is appointed. (I hope that will be on our ballot soon.)

Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis of the Duval Delegation voted against J-1 (HB 1079). I thank them for their vote. We’ll have enough things on our November 2020 ballot without this awful idea by the state legislature. The required economic impact statement completed by Jason Fischer and the Office of General Counsel should have included the cost of educating the voting public about the issue. Democracy only works when the voters understand the ramifications of their votes.

Under the Jacksonville City Charter, we have the authority at the local level to make the change suggested in HB 1079, if it is ever desired. However, there is not, nor has there ever been, community outcry for this bill or its intent. Our school board members are elected to represent the public’s interest in our K-12 education system. The voters have given them the authority to make decisions specifically about our school district. The school board unanimously passed a resolution opposing J-1 (HB 1079).

I want our elected school board to continue to be able to conduct a nationwide search for a qualified superintendent with the academic credentials, skills and experience necessary to run a large school district (DCPS comprises approximately 130,000 students and 14,000 educators and staff).

In Jacksonville, as in all of Florida, citizens themselves can put proposals on our ballot via citizen initiatives. Three state initiative campaigns have, thus far, qualified to go before voters in November’s general election: Florida for a Fair Wage’s “Fight For $15” constitutional amendment seeking to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026; an “open” primary proposal for state legislature, governor and cabinet, regardless of political party membership; and a constitutional amendment stipulating “only,” rather than “any,” U.S. citizen can legally vote.

I hope our November 2020 ballot includes an item allowing us to raise funds to renovate or replace district-owned school buildings that have lasted more than 50 years. As you may know, school districts throughout Florida have passed these referendums, because the state has cut capital outlay funding from going to district-owned school buildings.

Jacksonville voters, like all state voters, will need time to educate themselves on these citizen initiatives. We don’t need the ridiculous idea behind HB 1079 on our November ballot.


Aertker is an advocate for quality public education and the professionals who provide it.