JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local students have been back in classrooms in front of teachers for about a month now, but school districts are still having trouble filling teacher vacancies.
News4JAX requested data from three of the largest school districts in the area and found that the issue has improved slightly in Duval County, but in Clay and St. Johns counties, the number of vacancies has increased since the school year started.
In the St. Johns County School District, there were 49 teacher vacancies heading into the first week of school. As of Friday, there were 76 vacancies, according to the district, an increase of 27 in just over a month. That’s an average of 1.5 vacancies per school.
“I was surprised and concerned to see the numbers going up,” said Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association.
Dillon, who leads the teachers union, said she’s getting calls from teachers who say they are stressed to the breaking point.
“It is student behavior. It is covering for the vacant positions. If there’s a first grade room next door that does not have a teacher they are covering from lesson plans, they’re assisting with grades, and the workload is such that it’s pushing people out the door,” Dillon said.
Dillon said the union and district recently came to a tentative agreement that would allow teachers to get paid if they lose a planning period to cover a class or to pay them if they get extra students in their class when a substitute teacher can’t be found.
The St. Johns County School District also said there are 149 non-instructional vacancies.
“Educational support staff are the backbone of our public schools,” Dillon said. “We are talking about our bus drivers that take our students safely to and from home to school, our cafeteria workers, our paraprofessionals, our guidance clerks, our maintenance folks, our custodians...we could not educate our children without them. And I think the job market is such that we are not as competitive as we need to be.”
The district told News4JAX on Wednesday it’s working to address the issue.
“We have a very active recruitment team that meets regularly to brainstorm additional ways to attract employees. They take part in college and university visits, job fairs, and act as ambassadors for the school district. Human resources have been conducting open interviews virtually by allowing potential candidates to sign up for a date and time online,” district spokeswoman Christina Upchurch said.
It’s an issue going on across the state.
In Clay County, teacher vacancies have increased slightly from 26 at the start of the school year, to 29 as of last week.
A Clay County school district spokesperson said, “We are working hard on recruitment efforts and Human Resources staff will be attending various career fairs throughout the state from now through November.”
The Clay County School District said it is hosting an in-person hiring event on November 29 at Fleming Island High School and anyone interested in a teaching job is invited.
In Duval County things have improved, but only slightly.
As of August 1, more than a week before school, there were 389 vacancies. As of Monday, there were 379.
Duval teachers union president Terrie Brady said shortages have had a negative impact but hopes that a recent school-board approved raise for teachers, and the approved property tax referendum for education funding, will make a difference soon.
“Anytime you have vacant positions, it’s not good. But our HR department with the district is working feverishly to fill every position they possibly can. But when you’ve got a market base in the entire state that needs teachers, you’re everybody’s vying for the same individuals,” Brady said.