The Duval County school system has a new contract lobbyist -- and it's not who you might expect.
John Sullivan will serve as the district's top advocate in Tallahassee.
Sullivan, 29, comes to Duval County Public Schools having previously lobbied for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools and the Florida Charter School Alliance.
For education insiders, that's a big leap. Florida school districts and charter schools have had an icy relationship since the economic downturn, partly because they've had to compete for public dollars.
Duval County schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he wasn't concerned about Sullivan's charter-school background.
"I wanted someone who was fast, responsive and brought a new perspective," Vitti said. "That’s why I went with John. He has experience in Tallahassee, and has been earning the respect of lawmakers and his colleagues."
Before becoming a lobbyist, Sullivan interned for state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who now chairs the Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Sullivan also worked for a consulting firm run by former state Rep. Ralph Arza, R-Miami.
“I have a passion for education and have advocated for all students during the past two [legislative] sessions," Sullivan said. "I look forward to using that experience for the students in Duval, and fighting for them in Tallahassee.”
Vitti said Sullivan's hire is part of a larger plan to make the Duval school system more of a player in Tallahassee.
"It’s part of rebranding who are we are as Duval County Public Schools and thinking more like a large district," he said. "We want to be more involved in policy."
Vitti added that the school district's strategy for competing with charter schools is transparent: "You don’t have to be an insider to know our approach. We’re creating schools that offer better instruction and are more focused on customer service."