ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County School Board is considering asking residents to raise property taxes in the county to help pay for teacher raises.
The board met on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of asking voters on the 2024 ballot to raise the millage rate at least 1 mill.
Outside of teacher pay, the additional money would be able to be used for school supplies, bus driver pay, curriculum programs, safety and security, and other needs. The referendum would need over 50% of voters to approve it in order to pass.
According to the district, an increase of 1 mill would equate to a tax increase of about $325 a year for a home valued at $350,000. For a $650,000 home, the tax increase would be about $625 a year. The increase would also apply to commercial property in the county.
Board member Beverly Slough told News4JAX on Thursday the board has never asked for a millage increase before, but the money is desperately needed in the fast-growing, highly-rated school district that is adding more than 1,000 students each year.
“There was a lot of controversy with our contracts with our teachers this past year and we are just seeking a way in order to generate more money to pay our teachers more,” Slough said.
The district and teachers union were at odds over pay raises and needed to bring in an outside mediator to help with negotiations.
After months of back-and-forth and protests, the mediator sided with the teachers union and the superintendent recommended raising the starting teacher salary by $1,142 to $48,642 and teachers rated effective and highly effective for the year get a $1,522 and $2,029 raise, respectively.
Slough said nearby counties, a total of 23 in the state, have already leveraged millage rate increases and are using the money to pay teachers more than what St. Johns County is able to.
“Therefore we’re losing teachers to surrounding counties like Duval, Clay, Flagler,” Slough said.
For four years in a row, Slough said the state has hampered the district’s ability to collect more taxes even though property values have skyrocketed because it set what’s called a rollback rate, meaning the county couldn’t collect any more property taxes than it did the year before.
“People say all the time ‘Well, you’re such a wealthy county,’ yeah, but if they won’t let you get the benefit of that, well, then it’s very difficult,” Slough said, adding the state did not roll back the millage rate this year. “Several years ago public education received 32% of the state budget. This year, it’s 26%. So I mean, it’s just less money in the big picture coming to us, maybe it’s a few more dollars, but we got a lot more kids.”
Also in 2024, voters will be asked to renew a half-cent sales surtax that was passed by St. Johns County voters in 2015. The tax that has helped the district build new schools and improve security is set to expire in 2025.
“If we were to lose that sales tax revenue, it would just hamper us indescribably, to do all the things we need to do because kids keep coming,” Slough said.
In order to move forward with the plan to put the referendum on the ballot, the school board will need to vote to start the process at a future board meeting. The district would then put together a plan to educate the public about the need for the additional millage as well as a detailed spending plan.