At this time last year, Laurie Pellito was courting out-of-state job candidates to fill the various vacancies in Hernando County schools.
"I would have done everything I could to welcome them and help them get an application in," said Pellito, Hernando's recruitment coordinator. "Now I'm telling them, 'I'm sorry.' "
She's not alone.
Tampa Bay area school districts find themselves awash in job candidates as the new academic year approaches. But unlike past summers, the districts have few positions to offer.
"Our district has gone flat in growth," noted Janice Velez, human resources manager for Hillsborough schools. "Therefore, we have fewer positions to fill. We're always looking for high-quality people, but the opportunities are not as large as in the past."
A quick look at the Hillsborough district's employment Web site tells the story. "There is an employment freeze on the hiring of new permanent personnel in all classifications" starting May 18 and until further notice, it says.
The district is filling most open positions from within, although some entry-level positions for bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers remain.
Pinellas schools face a similar situation.
To deal with budget shortfalls, the administration has reassigned hundreds of employees into school-based jobs. Pinellas leaders want to avoid layoffs even as they shut schools.
Even so, district spokeswoman Andrea Zahn said, "The bottom line is we still have some needs that are unfilled." For instance, she said, "We always need bus drivers."
As districts advertise new openings, they get flooded with applicants — whatever the job.
"It's a very competitive market this year," said Terry Aunchman, head of recruiting for Pasco schools. "I've talked to principals who tell me when they run a job ad — for example, elementary schools for an elementary ed position — they're getting as many as 200 applicants per position."
Even janitor jobs draw big numbers, with many coming within minutes of the posting online, Pellito said.
"People are checking our Web site regularly," she said.
Job seekers are so numerous that nearly 200 people came to Pasco's recent job fair for substitute food service workers and custodians. They left trained but with no guarantee of work.
Several districts report that they're seeing a larger number than ever of people with master's degrees seeking substitute teaching positions.
It has gotten to the point where the districts have scaled back their recruitment efforts, canceling trips to other states that traditionally have filled Florida's once numerous teaching vacancies and deciding not to attend the annual Great Florida Teach-In.
It's good news for school districts, which can be increasingly choosy about whom they hire.
For potential employees, on the other hand, "It's very scary," Pellito observed. "You can be very qualified, you can be very experienced. But so is everybody else."