From 2007-08 through 2011-12, the St. Johns County School District saw its amount of funds per student decreased by the Legislature. When funding reductions occur, the District remains responsible for managing student growth, maintaining constitutional class-size requirements, opening new schools and implementing any new legislative mandates.
Although the 2020 Legislature increased funding for St. Johns County schools by approximately $20.8 million, the financial and economic pressures still facing the District are tremendous. As an example, despite an increase of 10.8 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 $49.1 million, or approximately $4.7 million more than the prior year; yet in 2007-08 the Local Capital Improvement Funds generated approximately $46.8 million. This equates to an approximate 5 percent decrease in revenue for capital projects, while at the same time the number of students being served increased by 61 percent from 27,737 students in 2007-08 to 44,624 students in 2020-21. Since 2007-08, the capital outlay budget has lost access to more than $289 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 had been steadily growing year over year, however, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic the receipts in the last quarter of the prior fiscal year were rather dismal at an approximate decrease of 30 percent. As a result, and in an abundance of caution, we have had to reduce our annual projection by roughly $7 million. In the event the pandemic does in fact subside, then we will have the opportunity to adjust those revenue projections and the corresponding appropriations.
The District’s revenue and expenditure budgets have changed significantly since July 2019. Highlights of the 2020-21 budget process are as follows:
- State & local funding has increased by approximately $17,368,094.
- Per-student funding for 2020-21 is $7,744, or approximately 1.1 percent over the prior year which equates to an additional $84 per student for this year. However, only $40 of that increase can be used for flexible spending (such as teacher and other employee salaries) with the balance of $44 being earmarked for categorical line items required by the Legislature.
- Student population for 2020-21 is projected to grow by 4.2 percent, or 1,777 students.
- The 2020 Legislature created the Teacher Salary Increase Allocation (HB 641) which, among other things, requires Florida school districts to increase the minimum base salary to at least $47,500, or to the minimum amount achievable based on the allocation. The state-wide allocation is set at $500 million with St. Johns portion being approximately $7.9 million.
- As a result of the lack of state funding, loss of the stimulus funding, continued student growth and other downward pressures on the budget, the District is forced to use approximately $17.3 million from its fund balance to sustain operations during the 2020-21 school year.
- The 2020-21 budget will provide approximately 100 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, legislated increases in the Florida Retirement System contributions, the funding of the aforementioned Teacher Salary Increase Allocation and
- the continued development of the digital learning initiative with decreased state funding. In addition, due to COVID-19 driven issues, the District will be operating in an unprecedented environment to include not only the traditional brick and mortar educational delivery model, but also a school-based distance learning environment and the continuing growth of St. Johns Virtual School.
- Finally, 2020-21 will be the fifth year in a row the Legislature has intentionally “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 a financial distress 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 2020-21; 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 student population is growing by 4.2 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 $49.1 million in 2020-21. As a reminder, 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 2020-21. 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 added approximately $16.3 million to the capital budget in the prior fiscal year, it is only a fraction of what is truly needed to address the backlog of new construction, technology, safety and maintenance demands. However, due to the COVID-19 driven government shutdown, the District is projecting an approximate $7 million loss in sales tax receipts.
In addition, the sales tax revenue also supports approximately $5.6 million in principal and interest payments for the construction of an elementary school and a K-8 school. Of course, this is in addition to the approximate $19.3 million in principal and interest payments for several previously built schools and other projects and is being funded from the 1.5 mill capital outlay levy mentioned above.
Finally, if the District does not see a significant improvement in per-student base funding in the near future, it will be necessary to once again reduce operating and capital expenditure costs 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. There you will find detailed information about your school district’s financial activity.