The St. Johns County School District expects the half-cent sales tax to exceed 2016-17 projections by nearly $4 million.
Superintendent Joe Joyner made the announcement during the school board workshop Tuesday morning, saying the increase is good news amid concerns of student growth and budget constraints.
“Our projection for the year was about $13 million and now it’s about $17 million,” Joyner told board members.
The tax, which adds a half-cent to the current county rate of 6 percent, is meant to fund capital outlay needs within the school district such as construction, technology upgrades and security improvements.
For the past several months, Joyner said the half-cent sales tax has surpassed monthly expectations, a trend he hopes continues into the future.
Still, the small increase won’t be enough to balance the loss of capital outlay funding from the state, which fell from $86 million in 2006 to $75 million in 2016.
The school district has grown 45 percent in those 10 years with no signs of slowing down. Over the next decade, more than 15,000 new students are expected to fill schools.
Paul Rose, the executive director for facilities and new construction, told the board construction for the new elementary school in World Golf Village is well underway. The new facility is projected to open for the 2017-18 school year to help relieve over-capacity surrounded schools.
Rose said the two K-8 schools for the Aberdeen and Nocatee areas will open the following year, but in the meantime, expansions at Crookshank Elementary and Nease High School will hopefully meet the needs of some of the student growth.
Talk quickly transitioned into an update on First Coast Technical College as it prepares to open with other St. Johns County schools on Aug. 10.
According to Patrick Snodgrass, the director of purchasing, all programs and the curriculum will be in place for the college, although registration is currently lower than expected.
Board members discussed the possibility of changing FCTC’s name and Frank Upchurch, the school board attorney, said it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the future.
“I would recommend changing the name from ‘college’ to ‘center’ to show this is not the same institution as it was before July 1,” Upchurch said.
Joyner said the board should wait to enact a resolution to change FCTC’s name because the district is still handling employee contracts that could stem legality issues should a name change occur.
The district will address the issue of students “opting out” of state-mandated testing in its 2016-17 student progression plan, which informs the public of school board rules and procedures used to implement state requirements.
According to Christine Stephan, director for instructional services elementary education, clarification in the plan gives parents and students choosing to “opt out” a set of concise guidelines.
“It provides clarification that all students are required to participate in the state and school assessment plan,” Stephan said. “This is especially important for third grade because the they have to show they’ve mastered the reading requirements to be promoted to fourth grade.”
Third-grade students who do not participate in the reading requirement portion of the FSA also have the option of taking the SAT-10 or completing a state-issued reading portfolio.
Stephan said if a student does not take or pass one of the options, they will be unable to advance to the fourth grade.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel, she added. The progression plan also has language concerning mid-year promotion should a student pass the SAT-10 or portfolio.
“Students could finish their portfolio or retake the test and show that they are mastering their reading standards and can be promoted midyear,” Stephan said. “We prefer that’s something they do early in the school year. It’s not something that will be done frequently, but it will be done for those students who are very close.”
Stephan said she hopes these clarifications and standards guide parents who choose to opt their children out of testing as well as remind them of state mandates.
“If the student refuses to participate in the tests or the parents refuse to let them participate, it will be necessary to retain the student,” Stephan said. “In other words, [the students] have to show mastery in some way and those are the ways they can do that.”