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Saturday, October 22, 2011

St. Johns County can't afford to build much needed new schools

From the St. Augustine Record


If the St. Johns County School Board had the money, it would be building a school a year in order to handle the growing number of students.

Dropping property values and tax monies, a cut in millage from the Florida Legislature and little state money for public schools means those schools won’t be built in the immediate future.

But the need is there, says Superintendent Joe Joyner, and the board is seeking ways to address the growth issue, including looking for help from legislators.

“If we had the resources we’d be building another school this very day,” Joyner said. “That’s what we did for the first six or seven years when our tax base was growing at a similar rate as our population.”

Now, tax rates don’t keep up with growth needs and decisions made in Tallahassee have put additional clamps on needs.

“It’s not just the economy, it’s choices that have been made by the state,” Joyner said.

Over two years, the state legislature cut money from the school districts’ capital budgets and transferred the money into the state’s operating budget.

Also, for many years the St. Johns County School District has levied 2 mills for the capital budget; now it’s at 1.5 mills. Capital budgets pay for building, maintenance and items such as buses and technology.

This year public schools took another hit when legislators voted to give almost all the state funding for school construction (called PECO funds) to charter schools. The state’s 350 charter schools will be sharing $55 million while the state’s 3,000 traditional schools are going without.

That’s a huge change from the 2007-08 year when traditional schools shared more than$500 million with half of the funds going for new construction.

Finally, school districts are seeing a drop in tax revenue as the value of houses has dropped.

In St. Johns County, the district is seeking help from the legislature to remedy some of the problems. They’ll be asking permission for the board to be able by a super majority (4 of 5 commissioners) to reinstate .25 mills of the lost building fund millage and they’re asking that money go to K-12 schools not just charter schools “because some of us are growing,” Joyner said. The district is asking that when students are allowed to transfer in (another bit of new legislation) from out-of-county schools, the capital dollars (building money) for those students come in with them in addition to their FTE money.

Also, the district is asking legislators to figure in a growth factor in allocations so that those districts that are growing will get a higher percentage of state dollars than districts in decline.

Most recent figures show that St. Johns County is the second fastest growing district in the state.

The district’s student population has gone up about 3 percent per year since the 2006-07.

When the St. Johns County legislative delegation met here recently, the chair, State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, told officials those “seemed like reasonable requests and asked us to follow up on them,” Joyner said.

1 comment:

  1. It really is a shame when you look at what the state spends our tax money on- THE LARGEST EXPENDITURE for the year is $30 BILLION for MEDICAID (medical care of low income persons) and education is a distant 2nd at $19 billion. To me it shows that big business(insurance companies, health care providers)special interest groups are in control of paying for campaigns so the legislature owes them. Anyone who says there is no socialized medicine in America has never looked at the numbers. So much is spent, how come the poor get such lousy care? All the money goes to insurance companies and for-profit health care providers.