Half-cent sales tax dollars already funding progress in St. Johns County schools (The St. Augustine Record)

Half-cent sales tax dollars already funding progress in St. Johns County schools (The St. Augustine Record)

At a recent workshop, St. Johns County School District officials provided an overview of progress on projects the district pursued in the 2016-17 school year based on revenue from the half-cent sales tax increase.

The bulk of those projects included construction of new schools built to meet the needs of a growing student population in the northern part of the county.

At the meeting, on May 22, school leaders also looked ahead to an additional $18.6 million in surtax revenue projected to add to the district’s coffers in 2017-18, $5.6 million of which will be taken right off the top to pay down debt service. The remaining funds will be appropriated toward ongoing and future initiatives.

The 2016-17 budget was the first the county had the benefit of surplus funding after voters in 2015 approved a referendum to raise St. Johns County’s sales tax by a half-cent beginning in 2016. That tax will remain in effect for 10 years. It is expected to bring in about $150 million total —about $13 million annually — to build new schools, pay for new technology and fund additional security.

Among the list of those projects considered “critically needed” from the outset was construction of three schools: Picolata Crossing Elementary School in the World Golf Village area ($23.8 million) which will open in August; “School LL,” a K-8 school in the Aberdeen neighborhood ($36.5 million); and “School KK,” a K-8 school in Nocatee, which the district has poured only $5.5 million into because it is in the early building stages. School expansions, especially to cafeterias, have also been allocated.

Of the total $150 million anticipated over the next 10 years, the district has tentatively slated a majority of that — $106 million — for construction, with new subdivisions in various different stages of planning across the county. Of that $106 million, according to Nicole Cubbedge, the district’s executive director for planning and government relations, approximately $40 million is left. But with construction costs as well as the number of new students expected to increase, that amount may not go as far as the district might hope, Cubbedge said.

Other areas administrators zeroed in as priorities for the surplus include maintenance of existing facilities. In 2017-18, for example, the district will spend about $1.7 million on roofing replacements, playground and athletic improvements, parking and fencing repairs and other site upgrades. The line item for maintenance was $14 million for 2016-17, and that figure is proposed to remain flat for next year, because so little of it was spent last year.

Another $25 million is earmarked for technology upgrades, including in-classroom tools, instructional devices and infrastructure improvements such as wireless upgrades. The district expects to invest just more than $4 million next year in this area.

Under the proposed 2017-18 surtax budget, just a fifth of the $5 million appropriated for student safety over the next decade will be spent next year, the bulk of it on new security cameras and monitoring systems, lighting and retrofitting at least 14 schools for single-point-of-entry which is considered a safer way to screen and allow entrance to visitors.

In 2016-17, the largest expenditure in this area was nearly $900,000 on 800 MHz radios for school buses, which Cubbedge said was helpful in increasing communication between drivers and district personnel, especially during last fall’s hurricane.

The proposed spending plan for the 2017-18 surtax revenue will be presented at the next meeting of the district’s Citizen Advisory Committee at 4 p.m. June 19 at Building C at First Coast Technical College.

Source: The St. Augustine Record

Posted May 31, 2017 06:03 am – Updated May 31, 2017 06:05 am

By Colleen Michele Jones

colleen.jones@staugustine.com

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