Southwest Florida school districts look for solutions to teacher shortage

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A Southwest Florida teacher interacts with a young student. Credit: WINK News

Southwest Florida’s severe teacher shortage has school districts looking for short-term solutions like spreading support staff between classrooms, and it has some former teachers thinking of coming out of retirement.

Students in year-round schools go back to class Tuesday, but there aren’t enough teachers to cover all the bases and not enough non-educators to make sure schools are running smoothly. The shortage has some former teachers thinking of rejoining the classroom, but others say the pay scale in Florida doesn’t benefit experienced teachers enough for them to consider it.

The school districts of both Collier and Lee counties have more than 150 open teaching positions, and with school weeks away, the chances of filling them all are slim. This means the districts will likely have to share resources.

Local tutoring services like McGinnis Educational Services, located at 12995 S. Cleveland Ave in Villas, have seen an uptick in business over the past few months, with parents reaching out for tutoring help for their children.

A Southwest Florida teacher interacts with a young student. Credit: WINK News

Kevin McGinnis, the former teacher who now runs the tutoring service, says he is one of those retirees considering a return to the classroom to help fight the shortage.

“Parents, more than ever, are aware that they have to do more to get their kids the services they need—they would like to just drop them off in school and know that at three o’clock they come out and they’re better off for it and, unfortunately, that’s not the case right now,” McGinnis said. “If I find the right match, the right school… there’s a piece of me that did enjoy the days back in the classroom.”

The School District of Lee County tells WINK News that in previous years it was able to pull school staff and teachers from the Northeast or Midwest. But with several educators across the country leaving the profession in recent years over health concerns, those states are in need of teachers, too, meaning schools in Southwest Florida have been left with limited resources.

“Some classes, you know, will have to share,” said Rob Spicker, spokesman for LCSD. “And some of the work staff that’s there may have to make up for, you know, the workers that aren’t there. We’re just in that position where we need staff, we need to fill these spots, and the work is going to get done one way or another. Just may have to be spread out across fewer people, or share paraprofessionals, and support staff could be shared between classrooms and various strategies.”

Lee County schools are having a virtual recruitment fair Tuesday afternoon. The schools are looking to hire teachers, paraprofessionals and bookkeepers, among other positions.

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