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New sales tax could help build schools in St. Johns County

Residents set to vote on 1/2-cent sales tax increase

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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – There's a big issue facing people who live in St. Johns County where next month, residents will vote on whether to approve a half-cent sales tax to help pay for new schools.

The new schools are needed because so many new people have moved to the area, and those new residents need to make sure to register to vote by Monday in order to have a voice.

With all the new construction coming to areas like Nocatee come families with children who need a place to go to school. And if things stay the same, there isn't room for them with the current number of schools.

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Valley Ridge Academy in Nocatee isn't even 2 years old yet and it has kids spilling out into 20 portable classrooms due to overcrowding.

It's something Jennifer Murphy, the school's Parent Teacher Organization president and mother of five, said surprised a lot of parents.

"Not only surprised, shocked. A lot of parents are concerned that their children were going to be in the portables," Murphy said.

READ: Proposed projects if the sales tax increase is approved

That's one of the main reasons Murphy will be voting for the half-cent sales tax hike in November.

The struggle to keep up with growth all over the St. Johns School District is the reason its superintendent said the additional revenue is crucial.

"This is really the biggest challenge or crisis facing our school system. The ability to keep up with the rapid growth," Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Joyner said.

Joyner said there is the equivalent of eight or nine elementary schools in portables right now.

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Just this summer alone, the district had to spend $4 million on the portables, which don't provide any equity for the district.

Joyner said if the sales tax hike doesn't pass, students and teachers have already had a taste of what will happen: More portables, rezoning and maybe even double sessions.

"You know, I'm not one to try to frighten people, but we're living it. They are seeing it," Joyner said.

A tax hike is a very unpopular idea, however, for people who feel the school district should tighten its belt before going after the taxpayer.

"How long can we continue to do this? It's a half a cent tax now and where's that leading? I don't think there's been the accountability," Kelly Lorbeer, of the St. Augustine Tea Party Republican Executive Committee, said.

Joyner said there's been a lot of belt-tightening and there is already an oversight committee of citizens to monitor whether school leaders are using the money as advertised. He said he is looking forward to having the additional money should tax hike happen.

"We're ready to move pretty quickly so we would, we would put shovels in the ground right away," Joyner said.
   


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