Q: St. Johns County continues to grow. Does the school district have plans for additional schools beyond the recently announced new High School HHH and K-8 School MM?
A: At our meeting in November, the school board approved our latest five year plan for facilities. In addition to High School HHH and K-8 School MM, we are planning for another K-8 and another high school, in addition to two school expansions, one of which will be to Liberty Pines Academy.
Q: Do you know where these additional new schools will be located?
A: We have several school sites available as possibilities. The exact location will depend upon where the people are. For a high school, we have sites available in Twin Creeks (the Beachwalk community) and Silverleaf. We actually have several sites in the Twin Creeks DRI (Development of Regional Impact).
Q: How will these schools be funded?
A: We have a large bond — that was used to build Creekside High School and Ponte Vedra High School among others — that will mature in 2021 and free up about $150 million in bonding capacity. This is enough to build a few schools.
Q: When do you expect zoning conversations to start for High School HHH and K-8 School MM?
A: Both schools are scheduled to open in fall 2021. Zoning for the high school will start in winter 2020. It takes a long time for high school zoning to be finalized, due to the complexity of high school scheduling. Zoning for the K-8 school will start in winter 2021. We will get a lot of input from the community and stakeholders in the process. After the first of next year, we expect to be announcing community meetings to begin the zoning discussion for the high school.
Q: Will any of these schools have capacity for controlled open enrollment?
A: In accordance with the school district’s controlled open enrollment procedures, new schools will not be eligible until the completion of the third year of operation. In fact, only three schools in St. Johns County will have capacity next year: PVPV Rawlings and The Webster School for elementary students and Murray Middle School. There are 379 total elementary spots available and 153 middle school spots. The window to apply is January through March of next year. If we receive more requests than we have spots available, then a lottery will be held.
Q: Do you have an update to share on teacher contracts?
A: We recently approved the latest teacher contract and I’m happy to say we are giving a nice raise to our teachers as well as increasing beginning teacher pay by $1,000 to $39,000. We are also raising substitute teacher pay from $12 to $15 per hour as well as bus driver pay in an effort to attract more of both. As the community grows, we need more of all these employees.
Q: Do you have anything else to share with District 1?
A: I’d like to congratulate Kelly Barrera for a wonderful year as chairman of the school board and I’m grateful for her leadership. The school board operates on a rotating basis for chairmanship, and I’m set to be the new chairman with Patrick Canan serving as vice chairman. Long ago, the school board decided that if someone is strong enough of a leader to be elected, they were strong enough of a leader to serve as chair, so that’s why we rotate.
I’d also like to wish everyone a safe and happy and healthy Holiday Season.
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