Tommy Hazouri's Charter Presentation on School Board

October 26, 2009 4 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In a recent speech, School Board President and former Mayor Tommy Hazouri came out swinging against the idea of more school board districts or any talk of making School Board Members who are appointed by the Mayor's office instead of elected. Along the way, he appears to have pioneered the first modern usage of the word "sensical" and significantly wonders aloud why everyone gets money from the JEA except the School Board.

My name is Tommy Hazouri. I'm currently the chairman of the Duval County School Board, I have been a member of the school board now going into my sixth year, a former state legislator for 12 years, former mayor, and now chairman of the Duval County School Board.

 So I hope today and this morning that I can bring some experience and perspective from that background in your deliberations, as well as to say to all of you, as these elected officials come up here, that it really isn't going to be about turf, it's about making observations and then letting you decide whether we are intact or not and whether or not you need to consider some tweaks and changes in -- in the structure of our charter.

Our consolidated government, as Mr. Mullaney was just saying, has come a long way since 1968. As a former mayor, I often said that I would not trade any other form of
20 government for our consolidated government. I hold that true today, yet there are tweaks to be made and experience and experiments that will help us become even stronger.

But also as a former mayor and as chairman of the Duval County School Board, I can say without equivocation that it's much easier to be mayor than it is to be a member of the Duval County School Board. As mayor, you can make instant decisions. As a school board member, beyond our local property taxes, we depend on the state and federal governments for the majority of our funding and many of our programs.

The school board respects its role as policy-makers and doesn't cross over, very often at least, into management. Our only employees are the superintendent and now our new internal board auditor.

With all due respect to General [sic] Rinaman, the Tuesday Night Fights of School Board meetings that the public had to endure for years no longer holds true today. Unlike the boards of yesteryear, our board is aligned with a single purpose, student achievement.

When I read in the study mayoral-appointed boards and superintendents, I look at the whole body of work, as you must do if you decide that the suggestion is a viable consideration. Do not take a single city whose boards and superintendent is appointed by the mayor as being a panacea, a cure-all for this country's public education woes. I think the superintendent will address the research and the misconceptions of any major successes you may have read or heard about. All of us agree, however, all of us, that the public expects and deserves education success from pre-K through high school.

I think as you hear from our superintendent and board vice chairperson, you'll see the great progress that's been made by our students and teachers over the past several years and the successes, too, of the privatization of many of our big ticket items, such as transportation, food service, and custodial service where it makes good dollars and cents. Divide the district into smaller districts, as Mr. Rinaman and some others have said, then I can ensure you the road to educational disaster. Our role is not to geographically -- to divide our city into haves and have-nots as it surely will do, but to exercise our constitutional responsibility and obligation by having educational equity in all of our schools.

Some expect Duval County to be like some of our neighboring counties, but there's a very big difference. We're an urban/suburban, rural county with nearly 125,000 students who come from every walk of life. Our goal is to walk side by side, leaving no student or parent behind.

While the concept of mayoral-appointed boards and smaller districts may sound sensical and some mayors perhaps would want the power, I don't think any mayor would want the responsibility of governing the city and the school system and expect great success.

Lest we be reminded after Tuesday night's City Council budget hearing, a mayor has all he or she can handle, dealing with their own billion-dollar budget and the many priorities that must and should be funded. What I believe you can do as a commission is review how the City and the school district, on common ground, can help make consolidation work to the benefit of the taxpayers and our children.

A review of the relationship or lack thereof between the school district and the JEA is but one important area to look at. The superintendent will delve further into this issue, but it's clear that the school district gets no contribution from the JEA, yet we receive half of the property taxes, and the City gets nearly $100 million a year and the school district gets the shaft. I believe there are ways that we can get funds from the JEA without the threat of raising rates if there's language that is written in the charter to allow any additional revenue contributions from the JTA -- JEA to the City to be shared equally and continued indefinitely.

Equally important, I believe there's beginning to be a better and stronger partnership with the City and the business community.

The Jacksonville Journey can be a major partner. The Children's Commission, business leaders, the State Attorney's Office, United Way, the sheriff, and other not-for-profit organizations are all working together to be a part of the solution for the shared concerns we have for our kids.

I believe too where you can review some cost savings with the General Counsel's Office, technology and other areas of common interest, then they too should be reviewed. Multiple-use facilities, such as our clinics, libraries, swimming pools, parks and playgrounds can all address economic, educational, recreational, and wellness concerns of the city, adding to the community's overall well-being and the overall quality of life.

Interlocal Agreements have already made some of these opportunities happen. Our school board and school district recognizes that the education process is a never-ending story. It's a never-ending journey. Transparency of our work, outreach to the community, listening and learning have all made for a more proactive and productive relationship with our parents and business and community leaders.

Do we have miles to go? Indeed we do, but we have made significant progress, indeed we have. Notwithstanding our appointed authorities, there's no substitute for an elected school board when it comes to accountability. They represent the people; they have relationships with those constituents; they have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer and they all have one common denominator, student achievement, graduating our students and preparing them for college and the workforce. I thank you all for the opportunity to speak.