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Teacher vacancies no longer an emergency for Tampa Bay area schools

They still have openings, but officials suggest the situation isn’t as dire as previously thought.
 
Anna Turner, pre-calculus teacher, center, plays a game with students during the first day of school at the Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Wesley Chapel. In Pasco County and neighboring Hillsborough, school officials say the teacher shortage is less worrisome than initially feared.
Anna Turner, pre-calculus teacher, center, plays a game with students during the first day of school at the Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Wesley Chapel. In Pasco County and neighboring Hillsborough, school officials say the teacher shortage is less worrisome than initially feared. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Aug. 29, 2022|Updated Aug. 29, 2022

A week before students returned to classrooms, some Tampa Bay area school district leaders sounded pessimistic about whether they could hire enough teachers.

Hillsborough County superintendent Addison Davis, facing a deficit of about 700 educators, talked about asking the state Department of Education to ease fines for anticipated class size violations. Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning, staring at about 350 unfilled positions, said he might invoke a little-used state law to declare an employment emergency, allowing him to use less strict criteria to deem applicants qualified to teach.

Related: Tampa Bay schools ready to reopen, but will they have enough teachers?

Four weeks later, such considerations have faded.

Hillsborough’s list of open teaching jobs dipped to 574 as of Monday morning, with the possibility that it might further shrink in a week as officials review enrollment and shift staff to spots where they’re most needed.

During a bargaining session with teachers later Monday, Hillsborough officials said enrollment is below state projections by nearly 10,000, so the district needs 360 fewer teachers than it thought it did.

“The budget is fluid. It moves and changes,” said Danielle Shotwell, manager of human relations.

Schools with the most advertised jobs were Woodson K-8, Gaither High and Ippolito Elementary.

“The district maintains they’re going to be able to keep within class size (state requirements),” Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association president Rob Kriete said, noting that the state allows districts to use school averages rather than strict classroom counts.

Pasco County saw a similar decline, to 131 advertised teaching positions as of Monday — a level that’s more in line with customary vacancies on any given day. Browning has not discussed the emergency idea with school board members or anyone else as the situation improved.

“We still have openings,” district spokesperson Steve Hegarty said. “But it’s more of an issue at some schools than at others.”

Nearly 30 Pasco schools did not list any openings, while a handful had five or more. West Zephyrhills Elementary, which lost its principal after its school grade dropped from C to F, had the biggest need with 11 advertised teaching slots.

Pinellas County district officials consistently have downplayed their need for teachers. As of Monday morning, the district advertised 169 vacancies at 80 schools. Three showed six openings — John Hopkins Middle, Ridgecrest Elementary and Woodlawn Elementary.

District spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas said the actual number was even lower. She attributed the limited vacancies to several efforts, including ongoing recruiting and helping substitutes earn certification.

Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi questioned the district’s list, stating it had more than 200 openings late Friday. She said similar fluctuations had occurred each week since classes started, suggesting that postings expired over the weekend and get reposted the following days.

Stuck in the middle of contentious contract talks, Velardi said she worried that Pinellas might see its openings rise if conditions don’t change soon.

“There are a bunch of people on the verge. ... These are people who stayed to see what Kevin would do,” she said, referring to superintendent Kevin Hendrick, who replaced longtime district leader Mike Grego on July 1.

Hendrick has pledged to focus on improving employee morale, and some say better contract terms would help.

Morale is a factor for the other districts as well.

United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace said he was not surprised to see Pasco’s vacancy rate decline. The promotion and passage of a property tax referendum to bolster salaries has generated a more positive environment than in recent years, Peace said. The Aug. 23 measure received support from 59% of Pasco voters.

Pasco also is poised to complete contract negotiations with raises.

“We’ve hired more (teachers) this year than we have in any recent year,” Peace said. “And there are problems in surrounding districts. People have sought Pasco as a respite for their jobs.”

Kriete, who heads the Hillsborough teachers union, worried that his district would be the net loser after its property tax referendum narrowly failed in the primary election.

The district has cut its number of jobs since Davis took over as superintendent, he said, and the number is likely to decrease again with the coming shift in assignments.

“With the failure of the referendum, we’re really going to struggle in Hillsborough to attract and retain the great teachers we have,” Kriete said.

Staff Writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report.

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