Schools in fast-growing St. Johns County feel strain of nationwide staffing shortage

Nearly 300 district positions unfilled as another new High School poised to open next year

As the county grows, St. Johns County scrambles to hire educators. The workload and pay structure are some of the factors keeping educators away.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – With nearly 300 staff vacancies in the St. Johns County School District, local leaders are working to recruit new hires as the district continues its trend of rapid growth.

By 2030, the SJCSD is expected to grow by nearly 15,813 students, a 47% increase over the 2020-21 enrollment.

That growth comes as the district continues to experience a shortage of teachers and non-educational staff.

“It’s a challenge across the state, but we are seeing it here in St. John’s like we haven’t in years before,” President of the St. Johns Education Association Michelle Dillon said. “I am concerned and want to work collaboratively with our district to help solve the staffing shortage.”

The district currently has 83 teaching positions open and 204 non-instructional staff openings, roughly the same amount of employees it would take to staff an average elementary school in the district.

Dillon said the staffing shortage issue predates the pandemic and said the comparatively low salary offered to teachers and staff is the main factor deterring prospective district employees. Another, she said, is the workload.

“The workload is just not maintainable. With the added pressures of COVID. And staffing shortages and lack of substitutes. Our teachers are going home every night every weekend,” Dillon said. “The workload was was tough pre-pandemic, but with these added stressors, -- workload is the second biggest concern I hear about behind pay.”

On Sept. 21, Superintendent Tim Forson posted a message to the community, asking people to consider a career with the district.

“St. Johns County Schools is in a high growth area and, not unlike like school systems across the country, we are faced with the need to fill positions at a higher rate than ever before,” Forson’s message said. “These are critical positions within our district and if you or someone you know are interested, please view our current vacancies.”

The school employment shortage is not isolated to St. Johns County, as a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released Friday indicates.

“In September, employment decreased by 144,000 in local government education and by 17,000 in state government education. Employment changed little in private education (-19,000). Most back-to-school hiring typically occurs in September. Hiring this September was lower than usual, resulting in a decline after seasonal adjustment. Recent employment changes are challenging to interpret, as pandemic-related staffing fluctuations in public and private education have distorted the normal seasonal hiring and layoff patterns. Since February 2020, employment is down by 310,000 in local government education, by 194,000 in state government education, and by 172,000 in private education.”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Representatives from the St. Johns Education Association are scheduled to meet with district officials at the bargaining table on October 27 to engage in the next round of negotiations. The union’s hope, Dillon said, is to

“It’s not just a concern for the union,” Dillon said. “It is a concern for our district staff as well. We want to keep are wonderful teachers and support staff and I look forward to working with the district to fix the problems and keep our teachers here.”

New teachers in the SJCSD are paid at $45,535 after the starting salary was boosted through state legislation in 2020.