School district committed to educating public on need for sales tax

Voters will decide whether it will pay $600 million for repairs, new schools

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CLAY COUNTY – With the school board’s half-cent sales tax proposal now in the hands of county voters later this year, the district has started educating more than students.

The board believes it’s now time to educate parents, too.

The half-cent sales tax is capable of raising hundreds of millions for the school district that will cover the cost of $300 million needed in school maintenance and another $300 million for a number of schools that will need to be built to meet Clay County’s future growth. None of that is possible without a resounding yes from voters this November, and the school district is working on devising what that education process will look like.

“We’re getting a late start because of COVID-19,” Clay County School District Interim Assistant Superintendent of Operations Bryce Ellis said. “Our original plan had a lot of focus on community meetings among other avenues.”

With the novel coronavirus still deemed a threat, community meetings originally planned have morphed into more socially-distanced avenues of education, Ellis said. This includes the use of videos on the district’s YouTube channel and website, as well as live presentations. Ellis said the videos will likely be doled out as a series and residents with questions can write in after each video to have their questions answered on the next.

Newsletters will be mailed out alongside videos uploaded online and assuming the school year looks somewhat normal when it starts back up in a few months, Ellis said the district will give out fact sheets and other resources at the district-wide orientation. She also said the district will look at talking with students at high schools since some will be old enough to vote.

“They have the first-hand knowledge,” Ellis said. “I think that’d be a great idea and something to look into.”

The district’s government relations and planner, Jim Fossa, said the district will meet with local community-focused groups like rotary clubs and the chamber of commerce to get the word out about the tax.

“We’ll be looking at organizations like the chamber, the rotary clubs, the North Florida Builders Association and more because we need to be able to reach them and let them know how this affects the entire community,” Fossa said. “The dollars will come back to different organizations and we need to get the word out about that.”

Fossa said the district hopes to get the community involved in as many ways as possible since there are residents who might not see the resources from the school district first-hand. If their local rotary club knows the information though, they might be able to pass it along.

While the coronavirus has essentially removed one of the district’s main avenues of education, the community meetings, Fossa said those weren’t always attended by a lot of people. There might be 20 people in a school cafeteria listening to the superintendent or someone like Fossa speak, which isn’t necessarily a lot in a county of over 200,000, but the livestreams and archived videos of these same meeting reach hundreds of others.

That’s why Fossa and Ellis are excited to get started on their educational videos and more.

“This is important,” Fossa said. “Videos, letters, word of mouth, social media...it all helps.”

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