Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Johns Schools Face a Growth Crisis

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Johns Schools Face a Growth Crisis

Article excerpt

The St. Johns County public school system, Florida's best, is far more important to the county than education.

It's an economic engine for the county, says Isabelle Rodriguez, CEO of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.

"A good school system is a shorthand for quality of life," she said.

So the fact that the St. Johns County school system has been rated the state's best for six straight years is a huge matter for the county. And it needs to be sustained.

But the schools are overflowing.

And there isn't enough revenue to pay for facilities.

It's the result of a perfect storm, Superintendent Joseph Joyner told the Times-Union editorial board.

- Student population is increasing every year by the equivalent of about two elementary schools a year.

- The state reduced allowable school millage.

- Additional state funding for school construction is drying up.

So what happens? Portable classrooms. Or massive transfers of students from school to school as boundaries are changed.

The general public often won't see the portables tucked behind the brick buildings out front. An example is the new K-8 school in Nocatee, Valley Ridge Academy. It was filled to capacity in its first year, and now there are 20 portables in just its second year. Still, the school can't handle all the students in Nocatee alone.

A few portables are one thing. Massive numbers of portables for the long term are another.

For instance, at its peak Bartram Trail High School had almost 60 portables, including the entire ninth-grade in portables. That was temporary, however.

More students produce a direct increase in dollars for teachers but not for facilities.

Efforts to obtain more state help for fast growing counties like St. Johns have been unsuccessful, Joyner said. The outlook is bleak given the mood in the Florida Legislature. St. Johns will have to look inward.

Building permits have been booming, especially in Northern St. Johns County. St. Johns County assesses impact fees devoted to the schools. The next five-year revision is coming up and ought to be revised substantially upward. …

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