From 2007-08 through 2011-12, the St. Johns County School District saw its amount of funds per student decreased by the Legislature. When budget reductions occur, the District still remains responsible for managing student growth, maintaining constitutional class-size requirements, opening new schools and most recently implementing a new teacher evaluation system.
Although the 2017 Legislature increased funding for St. Johns County schools by approximately $13.8 million, the financial and economic pressures still facing the District are tremendous. As an example, despite the increase of 7.87 percent in property value this year, the capital outlay millage remains at 1.5 mills rather than the previous levy allowed by law of 2.0 mills. Thus, the ability to raise revenue commensurate with the District’s capital needs is severely restricted. Revenues for the Local Capital Improvement Fund are projected to be $37.2 million, or approximately $2.8 million more than the prior year; yet the 2007-08 Local Capital Improvement Funds generated approximately $46.8 million. This equates to an approximate 20 percent decrease in revenue for capital projects, while at the same time the number of students being served increased by 42 percent from 27,737 students in 2007-08 to 39,472 students in 2017-18. Since 2007-08, the capital outlay budget has lost access to more than $253 million. This revenue loss will continue to jeopardize our ability to maintain existing schools or build new ones as needed. In addition, the ongoing lack of both operating and capital funding could negatively impact the District’s credit rating and its ability to efficiently manage its debt.
On November 3, 2015, in an effort to help alleviate the capital funding problem brought on by the aforementioned decreases, the School Board asked the general electorate of St. Johns County to approve a half-penny sales surtax initiative solely for the purpose of funding new construction, renovation/remodeling projects, technology and safety and security measures. The sales tax referendum was passed with more than 60 percent support. This new revenue stream will add approximately $17 million per year, or over $195 million during the 10-year period for necessary capital projects.
The District’s revenue and expenditure budgets have changed significantly since July 2016. Highlights of
the 2017-18 budget process are as follows:
- State & local funding has increased by approximately $13,835,263.
- Per-student funding for 2017-18 is $7,142.63, or only a 1.44 percent increase over the prior year; which is $59.80 less than the 2007-08 per-student funding of $7,202.43.
- Student population for 2017-18 is projected to grow by 3.7 percent, or 1,395 students.
- As a result of the lack of state funding, continued student growth and other downward pressures on the budget, the District is forced to use approximately $12.3 million from its fund balance to sustain school operations during 2017-18.
- The 2017-18 budget will provide 117 additional instructional staff units.
- Other pressures on the District’s operating budget include the proper funding mechanisms and related plan designs for its self-insured medical plan, the funding of the teacher performance pay system and the continued funding of the digital learning initiative, as well as the continued staffing changes necessary to maintain support of teaching and learning in our schools.
- As of July 1, 2016, the District became responsible for the operations of the First Coast Technical College as its Board of Directors surrendered the school’s charter effective midnight June 30, 7 2016. The overall financial impact of operating FCTC as one of the District’s own schools has been included in the 2017-18 budget.
- In addition, as a result of the 2017 legislative session, the Florida Legislature approved HB 7069; which is a far reaching bill that impacts several different areas of the public K-12 education environment. The full financial impact of HB 7069 has yet to be completely identified in all of its categories for the upcoming fiscal year.
- Finally, as a result of receiving only a 1.44 percent increase in per-student funding for 2017-18, the District will have to begin to look at operations differently on a going-forward basis. This will be the second year in a row the Legislature has “rolled back” the Required Local Effort in order to not raise local property taxes. This trend is not sustainable and needs to be addressed before its impact becomes distressing to school districts around the state.
Florida continues to be in the lowest tier in the nation in terms of per student funding for operational needs when compared to other states. As previously mentioned, the funding did increase for 2017-18; however, the state has a long way to go to restore Florida K-12 funding to the 2007-08 level.
It cannot be overstated that the District’s capital and maintenance expense budgets continue to be restricted. This is due mainly to the fact that the District is currently growing at 3.7 percent this year and, as stated earlier, has endured several years of declining capital revenue. In fact, the 2007-08 capital fund generated approximately $46.8 million. The same capital fund will generate only $37.2 million in 2017-18. This disparity is due mainly to the continuing negative impacts of previous years’ declining property values as a result of the housing market collapse and the related economic meltdown. More importantly, the Florida Legislature reduced the allowable millage levy from 2.0 mills to 1.75 mills in 2008-09 and then again to 1.5 mills in 2009-10. It currently remains at 1.5 mills for 2017-18. For the foreseeable future, capital and maintenance projects must be prioritized with a focus on critical needs only. The District continues to be forced to move from being prepared for growth and using preventive maintenance (in order to minimize costs) to only meeting critical needs.
Although the aforementioned new sales tax revenue adds approximately $17 million to the capital budget, it is only a fraction of what is truly needed to address the backlog of new construction, technology, safety and maintenance demands which will only continue to mount in the next 10 years.
If the District does not see an improvement in per-student funding in the future, it will be necessary to once again reduce operating and capital expenditure budgets so there is not an emergency when our fund balance has been exhausted.
In closing, past performance is a good predictor of future performance. To review our past financial performance, please visit our Financial Transparency web page. Here you will find detailed information about our financial activity.