Last month, the Keller Williams Realty Atlantic Partners Ponte Vedra office hosted a Zoom panel for local real estate agents to discuss upcoming changes and growth in the St. Johns County Public School District. On the panel were: Kelly Barrera, School Board Member, Nicole Cubbedge, Executive Director for Planning and Government Relations, and Michael Degutis, Chief of Staff for Academic & Student Services. The panel members spoke to us about the dramatic growth in the student body and the county’s efforts to meet the needs of our school children.
Right now, over 1000 people a day are moving to Florida (Wall Street Journal). Jacksonville has one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, partly because the cost of living here is 17% below the national average. The Jacksonville area also offers excellent options for public school education. Duval County is a “B+" rated school district and St Johns County is an “A” rated school district. Many younger families looking to relocate from other states come here because of the excellent public schools.
Growth Stretches Funding
However, the needs of these new residents are stretching the capacity of many counties. For example, Florida schools spend $9,346 per student while states like New York, which ranks first in the nation for student spending, spends $24,040 per student. According to Barrera, people who are moving here to get away from a state income tax and exorbitant property taxes sometimes fail to realize the limits for Florida in the amount of state funding for education. “Families get an excellent value for the dollars that are put into school programs and facilities. But, because of the tax structure, people coming in from out of state sometimes have higher expectations.”
“We still had an increase in the student population during this crazy COVID time,” said Nicole Cubbedge, Executive Director for Planning and Governmental Relations at St. Johns County Schools. Cubbedge says student enrollment expanded 2.16% during the virus outbreak from 2020 to 2021. She also said the district is required to look at student population projections over the next 5 years to be ready for students. They turn in a state-mandated study and include any state-funded planned construction of new schools and major renovation projects. Government dollars are awarded based on need and local demand, but also on what is needed in Florida’s 66 other school districts.
Current Schools and Future Growth
Currently, in St. Johns County there are:
- 18 Elementary Schools (K-5)
- 6 Academies (K-8)
- 7 Middle Schools (6-8)
- 7 High Schools (9-12)
More schools are on the way. MANY more, in fact. School district officials say a total of 24 new schools will be built in St. Johns County over the next 20 years to keep up with population growth. That is projected to be at 65,000-plus students by 2040. (To put things in perspective, there were only 36,529 students enrolled in 2015-2016.)
“St. John’s County is a property rich county compared to other, more rural counties, so we put in more money to the pot and don’t always get dollar for dollar back,” says Michael Degutis, Chief of Staff for Academic & Student Services at the school district.
Because of the growth explosion in St. Johns County, funded new construction projects for the next 5 years include:
- 2 new high schools
- 3 new K-8 academies
- a stand alone elementary school
- classroom expansion at South Woods Elementary
Local Tax Dollars at Work
Some of these construction projects, including Pine Island K-8 Academy in Nocatee, will be completed in time for the start of the 2021 school year. These projects are being funded through the half cent sales tax voters passed.
“Almost all our schools are funded using local funds, including a portion of county residents' property taxes and state bond funds,” said Cubbedge. "The district has been able to continue building new schools even though the taxable mileage rate was reduced. The mill rate pays off debt service for construction loans and maintenance of buses, schools and facilities.” Developers of large communities are often required to commit parcels of land adequate to build schools for the number of students projected to be created by the households in the new community.
Parents looking to get more involved with the St. Johns County school district can attend School Board meetings on the second Tuesday of the month at 9am. Duval County school board meetings tend to be at 6pm on the first Tuesday of every month.