St. Johns County School District braces for cuts as sales tax revenue drops

File photo
File photo

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the business closures that followed, Florida has seen a huge decrease in tax revenue collected.

Sales tax revenue fell almost $600 million statewide in March, according to estimates.

In St. Johns County, there was a 26% decrease in sales tax collected in March and a 24% decrease in April, according to St. Johns County School District Chief Financial Officer Michael Degutis.

“If that continues to have that kind of decline in May, June and July, that surely is going to have an impact on how schools are funded for next year,” Degutis said Tuesday.

A half-cent sales tax that St. Johns County voters approved in 2015 has provided funds for school safety upgrades and other capital projects. Last year, the tax brought in over $20 million. But with tax revenues down, it could have a long-term effect on future school improvement projects in the fast-growing county.

Degutis said he’s had internal discussions with his staff and with the superintendent’s team about the possibility of cuts, similar to those that were made in the middle of the Great Recession.

“Not to be a Chicken Little, but I do see some of the issues we were dealing with in the Great Recession recurring now with COVID,” Degutis said. “We have always positioned ourselves to be able to have a little rainy day fund so that when something like this happens, you’re able to at least endure it for the short term. It’s the long term that is really a concern.”

Cuts made after the financial disaster of 2008 included a reduction in staff and delays in filling vacant positions, he said.

Despite the drop in tax revenue, Degutis said that two new St. Johns County schools that are in the works — a new K-8 school in Nocatee and a high school in the World Golf Village area — are fully funded and will proceed as planned.

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