Half-cent sales tax providing safety upgrades for St. Johns County schools

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A half-cent sales tax that St. Johns County voters approved in 2015 has provided funds for school safety upgrades.

Entering year three of the 10-year referendum, St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson told News4Jax on Thursday that it has been a huge success, with the money going to new construction, reconstruction and school facility improvements that include technology, safety and security upgrades.

One of last year's project that was paid for by funds from the half-cent sales tax was new iron fencing outside St. Augustine High School -- part of the school's single point of entry plan that all St. Johns County schools now have. 

Forson said the referendum has been a huge success and, thanks to a growing economy, it’s brought the St. Johns County School District more money than expected. 

"Projection initially would be about $13 million a year, but what we're seeing is $18 to 19 (million) projection in this next year," Forson said. "So we’ve seen sales tax dollars come forward at a faster rate and a higher number."

Three new schools -- one elementary and two K-8s -- opened in the last two years thanks to the half-cent sales tax.

"(If the district didn't have the money from the tax) I would say at least two of three schools that we have constructed and brought online would not have been constructed," Forson said. "So you're talking about as many as 23,000-25,000 students, stations or seats that we would not have."

He said that would have meant more overcrowding and lots of portable classrooms. 

Rebecca Healey’s son, Liam, is in kindergarten at Julington Creek Elementary. She feels the school is very safe and secure.

"If you can't attend a field trip or you're not there, you know, the parent that is there -- that they did vet the parent," Healey said. "You feel safe sending your child when you're not able to go attend these events for your kids."

Some of the other projects included expansions, new roofs and new security cameras. Projects next year will include more expansions and new roofs, as well as another new school. The K-8 schools that opened this year each had a budget of $36 million. 

VIEW: Half-Cent Sales Surtax Citizen Advisory Committee Annual Report

Among the projects that have been made possible because of the county voting in favor of the half-cent sales tax include: 

Maintain Quality Educational Facilities

Mill Creek Academy Phase 2 Roof Replacement - $200,000 
PVPV/Rawlings Elementary Phase 1 Roof Replacement - $850,000
RB Hunt Elementary Covered PE Area - $250,000
Murray Middle School Site Improvements - $165,000
The Webster School Site Improvements - $250,000 

Classroom Technology Tools

Classroom Technology Upgrades: 34 Schools - $1,300,000

Student & Teacher Instructional Devices

Student & Teacher Instructional Devices: 36 schools - $2,016,000

Security Cameras & Monitoring Systems

Security Cameras at 24 schools - $345,085 
Upgrade Alarm System at Fruit Cove Middle School - $2,500 
Upgrade Intercom Systems: 6 schools - $165,585


Fencing at 9 schools - $84,519

Security Doors & Entrances

Single Point of Entry Improvements at 14 schools - $239,025
School Security Improvements at 7 schools (approx) - $176,720 
Exterior Lighting at Sebastian Middle School - $10,000