Lee County tries to fill teacher shortage 4 weeks before new school year

Published: Updated:
A teacher in front of her class in Lee County. Credit: WINK News

The new school year starts in only four weeks, and Lee County, like so much of Florida, is dealing with a massive teacher shortage.

In Lee County, there are 285 open teaching positions on top of a severe bus driver shortage. This January, state education officials reported more than 9,500 vacancies in schools across the state. More than 4,300 were identified as teaching jobs, the remaining 5,222 were non-instructional positions like teachers’ aides, bus drivers and custodians.

As parents are checking their kids’ back-to-school lists and looking ahead to the back-to-school tax-free holiday beginning on July 25, several state education leaders have concerns about just how many teacher vacancies there will be this year.

“My daughter, who’s now going into eighth grade, did not have a science teacher from the third week of January till the end of the school year,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “Half of the school year she did not have a science teacher, because her science teacher, after the winter break, said, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m not going to continue to sacrifice my health and my family and not be able to do what I know is best for kids.’ And she walked away from the profession she loved.”

According to FEA data, more than an estimated 450,000 Florida students may have started last school year without full-time certified teachers due to the number of teacher vacancies.

“There is no doubt, we are in a crisis mode,” Spar said. “Right now, the number one issue facing our public schools is the lack of teachers and staff. If kids get to school late because there aren’t enough bus drivers, they’re missing out on the education they deserve and need. If children don’t have teachers in the classroom, they’re missing out on the education they deserve and need.”

WINK News reached out to local school districts for an updated count on their current vacancies: Besides Lee County’s 285 vacancies, Charlotte County has 196 open positions. 56 are classroom teachers. They hired a little more than 200 new teachers for this upcoming school year. Collier County currently has 156 instructional, 78 non-instructional and 25 bus driver vacancies. Collier County Public Schools say these numbers are changing daily, and they hope to reduce them in the next two weeks.

State education leaders say one of the main issues leading to this shortage is the pay educators receive in Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis did include $800 million for teacher pay raises in the 2022-2023 budget, an increase of $250 million from last year.

Leaders with the School District of Lee County sent WINK News this statement:

“Our most current number on teacher vacancies is 285. While high for this time of year, our recruiting efforts will not stop. We have a plan in place to make sure every classroom has a certified teacher to lead instruction on the first day of school.

“As you heard earlier this week, we are in need of 69 bus drivers, with the anticipation of that number growing closer to 100 as Aug. 10 approaches. To attract drivers, we have raised starting pay to $17.50 an hour, which is third highest in the state of Florida for public school bus drivers. We also cover all upfront costs, paid training and full benefits as soon as eligible.

“The most recent listing of open positions is on our website. Many of the casual positions listed are for supplemental contracts that have to be advertised but [will likely be] filled by staff that held the positions last year.

“Our next recruitment event is on Tuesday, July 12. It’s a virtual connection where anyone interested in teaching or support staff positions can meet with principals looking to hire. Here is the link to register.”

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