TAMPA — In a startling turnabout, Hillsborough County schools are cutting teacher hiring in the face of budget shortfalls and flat enrollment.
School officials expect to hire about 800 teachers over the summer, about one-third fewer than last year.
"The economy has affected even our need for teachers," said Quincenia S. Bell, who supervises Hillsborough's Office of Teacher Recruitment.
When Bell started in the job two years ago, the district was hiring 1,500 to 2,000 teachers in a year. Now she's cutting back on out-of-state recruitment trips to places such as Michigan, Pittsburgh and New York. Next school year, she will focus on teacher retention.
The dour economic climate is hurting school districts across Florida, rendering moot the state's hiring projections. Some districts aren't hiring at all, while others have seen layoffs.
The state's annual job fair, the Great Florida Teach-In, reflected the changing times. About two dozen of Florida's 67 school districts participated in the event last week, compared with 40 last year.
Budget cuts were a major factor. Demand for teachers also dropped when the Legislature delayed for a year the strictest phase of the voter-approved class size caps, said Pam Stewart, Florida's deputy chancellor of educator quality.
That's not to say the teacher shortage is history.
"We will come back around to needing significant numbers of teachers in the future," Stewart said.
The Department of Education won't know exactly how the teacher hiring picture will play out until after school starts in the fall. Each district may face unique circumstances.
Hillsborough, for example, needed fewer high school instructors this year after forcing existing teachers to take on an extra class period each day. And budget cuts required reassigning some district-level employees back to schools.
But the district still is hiring, especially in areas such as math, science, reading and elementary education. And it needs teachers to work with students who have disabilities. There is little need for teachers of social studies, physical education, business and the art electives.
"The competition has increased," said Bell, noting that many education majors, as well as highly qualified professionals looking to make a career change, still have a place on campuses. "I am every day looking for those teachers that are a cut above the rest."
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.