With 83 teaching vacancies left and three weeks until school starts on Aug. 10, Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) has just launched an ad campaign on TV, radio and social media, in addition to frequent job fairs.
The human resource department’s aggressive attempts to fill slots have had some success—a week ago, there were 105 job openings.
Fifty-four of the classroom teacher vacancies are for classrooms in preschool through grade 5.
The teacher shortage is not contained to Alachua County. Across the nation, fewer people are working toward education degrees in college, creating a smaller pool of teachers to hire.
ACPS was insulated from the national problem until a few years ago, according to Jackie Johnson, ACPS spokesperson. With the University of Florida churning out graduates from the College of Education, Alachua County has had access to a significant supply of educators.
Since the COVID-19 shutdown, Johnson said fewer young people are entering the education track. Last year, the UF College of Education had 492 undergraduate students enrolled.
July is also a typical time for existing teachers to announce their departure from the area or state, often to follow a spouse or partner who has graduated from UF, according to an ACPS press release.
Of Florida’s 67 school districts, Alachua County’s average teacher salary was ranked 24th in the 2021-22 school year at about $50,780. For a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience, starting pay is $45,717 plus retirement, free health insurance and other benefits. The district also helps teachers with student loan forgiveness and offers ways to earn extra money by working through the summer, or as a coach or art teacher.
According to Florida law, teachers are to be paid a base salary of “$47,500 or the maximum amount achievable.”
At a School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) meeting on Tuesday, Board Member Kay Abbitt said schools with more teaching vacancies had significantly lower FAST scores, indicating low to no mastery of grade-level material.
“Something’s got to be done differently, and a priority has got to be given to the kids who, for years, have been struggling and pushed through the system. It’s not fair,” Abbitt said.
SBAC Chair Tina Certain said she thinks the district should reassign staff across the 38 schools in the district to help fill the most pressing vacancies, a decision that would be up to the superintendent, not the school board.
Board Member Sarah Rockwell said reading should be top priority. She suggested that daily and long-term substitutes be placed first in other subjects, and certified teachers be guaranteed for language arts and reading.
“If you cannot read, you cannot access information, and you cannot further your education or your job opportunities or your life opportunities,” Rockwell said.
Rockwell suggested at the same meeting the possibility of working out a regular substitution plan for retiring teachers who do not want to leave the system entirely. She said these teachers often return as substitutes, but are not always placed in their specialized subject, and wondered if there was a way to contract these retired teachers as long-term substitutes who teach one subject for one or two periods a day.
“I don’t know if this is an idea that is real, or has actual merit,” Rockwell said. “But as I think about the fact that we have children without teachers, I just keep thinking that we’re gonna have to do some out-of-the-box things to fill those positions.”
The district remains open to applications from anyone interested in teaching, including former teachers and those who have never taught before. Those who are veterans or have a bachelor’s degree not in education can still apply with a temporary certificate that allows them to work toward a standard teaching certificate.
Those interested in teaching for ACPS can call the district’s Human Resources Department at (352) 955-7727 from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays to be scheduled for an interview at the district office, where contracts may be offered on the spot.