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  1. Education

Pasco County elementary schools need more teachers

Published Aug. 19

Each year, the Pasco County School District aims to have fewer teaching vacancies than the year before.

This fall, it fell short.

Schools had 102 open instructional positions on the first day of classes, compared to 88 a year earlier.

The numbers did not correlate to the state's critical shortage list, though.

The state lists science teachers as its top area of concern. Pasco reported three science teacher openings, having hired 16 of them in the previous two months.

Pasco's primary vacancy areas were, perhaps not surprisingly, in the positions it has the most to fill — elementary teachers for general and special education. Those jobs comprised 69 of the total.

The next highest was math, with seven openings. Math has been on the state critical shortage list for several years.

Interim human resources director Kim Newberry told the superintendent's top administrative team that her department plans to hold a "hiring event" on Sept. 5. It plans to invite certified applicants who might not have been hired yet and candidates who might be close to certification to interview for spots.

Any qualified applicants will be referred immediately to principals.

The district did the same thing last fall, and found a handful of teachers who were still available.

ENROLLMENT: School district planners have projected enrollment to increase by 1,243 students over the previous academic year.

By the fifth day of classes, the numbers were almost there. A report to the School Board showed the student count up 1,144 from the fifth day of 2018-19, for a total of 71,965 students.

That was slightly lower than the first day of school, meaning the population is likely to keep rising. The state does not require an official count, upon which it bases funding, until the 40th day.

That gives time for families to settle into their schools and for districts to get their data organized.

Most districts also take a 20-day count, at the time when they historically see their enrollment stop moving. At that point, they reallocate teachers and students to avoid violating class size laws.

Which schools are most likely to see changes?

Among high schools, Wesley Chapel and Cypress Creek have the most growth, with more than 100 new students each. Those schools are to get new attendance zones for next year, after a new middle school on the Cypress Creek campus opens.

Paul R. Smith Middle School in Holiday is the biggest mover among sixth- through eighth-grade schools, also adding just over 100 to its rolls. It exceeded 1,000 students for the first time in two years.

Odessa Elementary on the growing State Road 54 corridor has seen the biggest gains of all, with its count up nearly 250 students from a year ago. At 1,078 students, it is the district's only elementary school over 1,000. Connerton Elementary, with only slight growth, is next at 918 students.

STUDENT FEES: For the first time in years, the Pasco County School Board reviewed and increased several student fees this summer, to take effect this fall.

On Tuesday, the board revisited two of the changes. It considered reducing the dual-enrollment course fee to $5, from $10. And it looked at increasing the JROTC activity fee to $15, from $10.

The materials provided when the board first acted included the wrong amounts, district officials said.

Student fees are not mandatory, though they help support costs associated with the programs. Chief finance officer Olga Swinson has said the district does not expect to receive anywhere close to the full amount that would arrive if everyone paid.

Even so, schools reported collecting much more in fees this year than in the past — almost $2 million in total — as classes resumed Monday. Principals said they heard parents found it easier to pay using the district's online system, which got some technical improvements over the summer.

More than three quarters of families paid with credit cards, with check submissions shrinking. And many schools saw the cash flowing through decrease by two thirds, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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