Council sets up schools committee
by Paige Rentz
Local officials hope a new committee will improve relations between the city of Jacksonville and the city’s school system.

City Councilman Mark Jones, who chairs the city’s joint committee with Jacksonville State University, has pushed for a similar committee to formalize communication with the Jacksonville City Board of Education.

Like the Town & Gown Committee, the City Council’s education committee will meet quarterly, perhaps beginning within the next two to three weeks, Jones said. Other committee members include Councilman Jerry Parris, board of education President Mike Poe, recently elected board member David Glass, and ex-officio members Mayor Johnny Smith and schools Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell.

“Based upon the negativity between the school board and this council that had been going on,” he said, “I just felt like we needed to do something to make it more of a ‘we’ instead of an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’”

Some tension in recent months has come from the question of how to divide money from a one-cent sales tax increase the council approved last year to fund a new public safety complex. At the time, officials said some of the money also would be used to help education.

“I think that’s something that we can help resolve,” Jones said of the committee’s role in how to best use those sales tax funds.

Parris said he sees the committee as an opportunity to make sure the City Council has more time to react to the needs of the school district. He said he felt the council has not done a great job in recent years of funding schools and ran on that issue during his campaign.

“Hopefully this new council will be much better at ensuring that we … try to help as much as we can when they’re in need,” he said.

Poe said the school district has informed the council of its facilities needs, but that the two sides could definitely communicate more frequently on the topic. He said he thinks the new committee can serve as a bridge to bring city officials into the schools, not just to see the facilities and infrastructure needs, but also the daily successes and challenges of teachers and students in the classroom.

With many school events going on in a given week, Poe said, it’s often difficult to find times for board members to meet with the administration, so the board’s formal meetings often overlap with the City Council’s – another impediment to communication between the bodies.

“It’s something we have discussed already and are anxious to get a solution for,” he said, adding it’s an issue the committee may help streamline.

Jones said when the new group meets next month, he expects members to set core objectives and decide on whether and how to add representatives from the community at large to the committee.

As the committee prepares to meet, Glass is looking for common ground.

“I think that what we want to accomplish in the beginning is a better understanding of where each party is coming from,” Glass said. “It helps with buy-in to the process; it puts you in the same boat [so] we’re all going in the same direction.”

Star Staff Writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
© 2012