GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Dr. Michael Kemp, Clay County’s assistant superintendent for operations, faces a lot of challenges to keep the county’s public schools up and running. Clay Today staff writer Wesley LeBlanc recently talked with Kemp on some of those challenges – and how to pay for them. Here is that discussion:
How did the Clay County School District fair during Hurricane Dorian?
“The District was very fortunate to escape Dorian with minimal damage to schools. There were minor roof leaks and debris on some campuses, but everyone is able to get back to normal operations.”
Is the school district equipped to weather a storm worse than Dorian? Dorian turned out not to be as bad for Clay County as originally thought, but we still face the threat of other storms this season.
“The District is always as prepared as possible for these types of weather events. There are plans in place and leadership works closely with Clay County Emergency Management to make the best decisions for all involved in the process. When it comes to facilities, the district operations team does its best to seal and prepare schools and offices for the intense wind and flooding that come along with a hurricane; however, it's hard to say where the district would stand if hit by a catastrophic storm.
“The biggest concern, of course, would be the more than 900 portables in the district. About half our student population uses portables on a daily basis. As seen in panhandle with Hurricane Michael, these types of structures usually aren't able to withstand the wind seen in a Category 5 Hurricane. The District would require significant federal, state, and local assistance in these circumstances.”
How would a sales tax help with these kind of things?
“A sales tax would allow the District to begin replacing portable buildings over time with more permanent classroom structures. In addition, a sales tax initiative would allow the District to update current structures, some of which are approaching 95 years old, with relevant mechanical systems (HVAC) and building envelope improvements like roofing, plumbing, electrical, walls, ceiling, etc.”
If passed on the general election ballot, the district wouldn’t receive those funds until 2021, right?
“Yes, half-cent revenue collections would begin in 2021.”
With $318 million needed in maintenance, what is the district’s method for repairing the schools right now?
“ED.F.I.R.S.T. (Education Facilities Infrastructure Restricted Sales Tax) would allow the District to immediately address outdated mechanical systems in current facilities that are in dire need of replacement as well as critical facility improvements needed for instructional programs.
“Due to limited funding, routine preventative maintenance and recommended replacement schedules have simply not been possible. The result has forced the operations department to be as creative as possible with existing capital fund sources to react to critical issues and breakdowns as they occur. Operating reactively is not the most ideal, but it is an unintended consequence of lack of funding.
“The E.DF.I.R.S.T. plan is a comprehensive assessment that examines needs at every school. A dedicated, protected revenue stream is the only way to assist with challenges Clay County District Schools is facing with existing facilities as well as the challenge of projected growth over the next 10 years. Clay County deserves safe, relevant, upgraded, and reliable facilities to meet the needs of current and future students and staff. ED.F.I.R.S.T. would allow the District to update and improve existing schools in order to remain competitive with surrounding counties that are ahead of us in this effort and are already benefiting from a dedicated revenue stream.”