New schools to be financed with half-cent tax

New schools to built in St. Johns County

By Joe Pike

On a Nov. 3 special election, St. Johns County voters passed a half-cent sales tax increase by more than 60 percent. Its passing allows the county to begin building new schools, bringing in an expected $13 million annually over the next 10 years.

St. Johns County has seen a significant rise in population over the last several years due to state and national test score recognition. School officials are concerned that expenses to keep the already overpopulated schools functioning will continue to grow, while students miss out on a quality learning environment.

Beverly Slough, chairman of the St. Johns County School Board and representative of District 1, believes that the sales tax increase will benefit the rapidly growing community.

“Many people who move here because of the quality of the schools. If our schools become really overcrowded, the quality of the schools is in danger of diminishing,” said Slough. “They [voters] realize that we need money to build additional schools in order to maintain the quality we have.”

The half-cent increase is expected to limit the need for portable classrooms, which is currently costing the school board $191,000 a month to lease.

According to Slough, completely eliminating the use of portable classrooms is unlikely due to the pace at which the county is accumulating new students.

Several years ago the St. Johns County School District attempted to have a millage increase on property taxes passed, but were unsuccessful. Slough claims that this is because the need for more for more schools is greater now than it was then.

“We’ve just grown so much more, plus the economy has improved,” said Slough. “Plus, it’s [sales tax increase] not just on the back of property owners; it’s spread across the whole populace.”

While there were enough supporters for the sales tax increase to pass, some St. Johns County residents don’t believe it was the right decision.

“Fifty percent of my property taxes are going towards public education,” said Jack White, Ponte Vedra Beach resident. “Why aren’t the developers out there paying for the schools? They have the property; why is the burden going on the taxpayers? It shouldn’t be.”

The half-cent sales tax increase will be in effect beginning Jan. 1, 2016.