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St. Johns County neighborhoods growing faster than schools

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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Teachers headed back to school Monday. It was the first day of a weeklong pre-planning period before students hit the books next Monday.

This year, student enrollment is expected to grow by about 1,500 students and, according to the St. Johns County Schools Superintendent Joe Joyner, there aren't enough schools and permanent classrooms for all of those children.

All over St. Johns County new homes are going up and plots of land are being sold.

"We're not anti-growth," Joyner said. "We've gotten some wonderful new families, some wonderful new schools buildings, beautiful new children. We love all of it, but when you don't have the infrastructure to build the schools you need it's frustrating."

Joyner said right now the district is about two schools behind and in 2016 he expects that number will jump to four. He said in 10 years they'll need 20 additional schools.

The two newest schools, Patriot Oaks Academy and Valley Ridge Academy, already have portable classrooms added on in the back. Joyner said they cost the district $191,000 a month to rent all the portables.

"When you look at relocatable classrooms, they're safe, they're good teaching environments, but they're not preferable," Joyner said. "We're leasing those. We're not building an equity. When you want to build schools, you want a permanent classroom, a school that will last 50 years. Using relocatable classrooms is just a stop gap measure."

He said despite the cramped space, he doesn't believe the district's status as being No. 1 in the state for test performance will be tarnished by the most recent growth.

About 2,200 teachers are employed in SJC right now, and Joyner said about 300 employees will be added to the payroll by the end of the summer, including teachers, teaching assistants, food service workers and bus drivers.

"The teaching is still the teaching, high-quality instruction, great students, outstanding parent support and outstanding teaching that's going to continue to go on," Joyner said.

St. Johns County Board of Commission voted to put a half-cent sales tax increase on a special ballot in November. Joyner said he doesn't believe it will solve all of the district's problems, but he said it will help significantly.