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St. Johns County school choice: Your questions answered

District's controlled open enrollment plan explained

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A new state law that will allow parents to send their children to a public school anywhere in the state starting this fall, is causing mixed emotions, as some love it and some hate it. Many against this idea live in St. Johns County -- home to the top school district in the state and one of its fastest-growing districts.

The new law, House Bill 7029, gives Florida parents the option to apply for any school that hasn’t reached capacity, no matter where they live.

This is the first time those living outside of St. Johns County will be allowed the chance to attend schools there. To deal with this and its own growth, the school board came up with its controlled open enrollment plan, or COE.

There are a lot of questions and concerns about how COE will work, how it will affect parents and children, and its impact on this already-crowded county. 

RAW: Superintendent Tim Forson on controlled open enrollment

News4Jax has been digging into this controversial plan to find out answers to questions a lot of parents told us they still have.

Lottery to be held for new students 

Filling available seats in St. Johns County will be done by lottery.  Applications will be accepted starting Feb. 3 and will run through March 10 through the district's website: http://www.stjohns.k12.fl.us/choice/

Which schools are available in the lottery?

There are four schools in the county with seats currently available (see interactive map below for each school's rating and number of available seats):

  • Durbin Creek Elementary
  • The Webster School
  • Ponte Vedra Palm Valley Rawlings Elementary
  • Murray Middle School
     
  • Who has to apply for the lottery?

    Parents who live in St. Johns County, but want to send their child to a school other than the one they are zoned for, will need to apply. Parents who live outside the county will also need to apply.

    How will the lottery work?

    • During the open enrollment period from Feb. 13 - March 10, parents submit an application.
    • Parents can apply for more than one school, but an application is required for each.
    • Students living in the county will have first priority, followed by students living outside of the county.
    • If more students have applied than seats available, there will be a lottery and all applications, whether submitted on the first or last day of open enrollment, will be given equal consideration.

    All applications will be randomly numbered through a computer program, so when an application is submitted during the open enrollment period doesn't matter.

    Once the application window closes March 10, there will essentially be two lotteries: one for St. Johns County residents, the other for out-of-county residents. Those living in the county will go first. If there are seats still available after that, out-of-county residents will then be selected.

    What if my child is not selected in the lottery?

    If a child is not approved for a school through controlled open enrollment, he/she will be placed on a waiting list. If seats re-open due to a declined selection, the student with the next number in the lottery will be notified and offered the seat. This process will only continue until the first day of school. After the first day of school, the waiting list will be discontinued.

    Tax concerns 

    Another concern for many parents who live in St. Johns County is taxes. They want to know how schools will be paid for with people living and paying taxes outside of the county.

    The district says a person continues to pay taxes in the county where they live, no matter where their child goes to school. But most of the funding for education comes from the state. Florida pays a certain amount for each child, no matter the district, no matter the classroom.

    Overcrowding concerns

    Overcrowding is no doubt the biggest concern for many St. Johns County parents. The district says out of the county’s 35 K-12 schools, 21 are already over 100-percent capacity. Those schools have been adding teachers and what it calls "relocatable" classrooms.

    When a relocatable is added, so is an additional teacher. This is done so schools are always complying with the district's teacher-to-student ratios. The district explains, relocatables are used only as a temporary solution until it can rezone or add more classrooms or schools. 

    Schools that currently exceed permanent student capacity (the 21 of 35):

     

    Three schools currently under construction:

    • Elementary School M
    • K-8 School KK
    • K-8 School LL

    One school currently expanding:

    • Nease High School 

    Student growth trend:

    As of this 2016-2017 school year, there are 38,666 students in the county's K-12 schools.

    Over the next five years, the district expects that number to grow by 22 percent, adding another 7,853 students. To make room for this growth, the district cuts off enrollment before the schools are actually 100 percent filled -- leaving room for families who move into the county after the school year starts.

    According to the district, in the past four years, the number of students has grown by 21 percent, or 7,634 students.

    Over the next 10 years, enrollment is projected to rise 47 percent, or by 15,813 students. 

    Additional controlled open enrollment questions answered

    If my child is accepted in the lottery, do I have to reapply every year?

    If you live outside St. Johns County, and your child is accepted into one of the county's schools, that child is guaranteed a spot in that same school until he/she finishes the final grade offered at that school.

    For example, if your child is accepted into an elementary school, your child can remain there through the fifth grade. But you will need to reapply through open enrollment for a middle school.

    Who is not eligible?

    Students who have been suspended or expelled do not qualify for this controlled open enrollment plan.

    Transportation? 

    If your child is accepted, transportation to and from school is the parent or guardian's responsibility.