SARASOTA, Fla. — A week from now, students across the Tampa Bay region will be enjoying their last night of summer vacation as the new academic school year is set to start on Aug. 10 for most schools.
Ahead of the new school year, district administrators have continued to scramble to find teachers to fill the classrooms, which led to people attending the Sarasota County School Board meeting on Tuesday.
People at the meeting said they attended to advocate for teachers and wanted to show their support as districts across the Tampa Bay area grapple with a teacher shortage.
"Think about what these teachers have been through and how committed they are to teaching our students, our children," Angela Wynn with Support Our Schools said.
One person at the meeting, who has children that attend schools in Sarasota County, said despite the shortage, teachers continue to remain in the classroom because it is their passion to make a difference in students' lives.
"Teachers are still coming into work and that shows that they love what they do, how much they love teaching and how much they love the students and to be able to continue on through all of those attacks and threats against them, it shows that they love to keep coming back," the man said.
District officials said their recruitment teams have been working throughout the summer to hire as many teachers as possible.
"We hired on 300 new instructional staff since the end of last school year and that number also doesn't include any internal transfers," Christina Rogers-Hehr with Sarasota County Schools District's Human Resources said.
Sarasota County Schools still have 85 open teaching positions, but compared to Hillsborough County, which has around 620 open teaching positions, and Pasco County with 400 available jobs or Pinellas with 161 vacancies, the school district is in better shape.
According to The Florida Education Association, the state has a shortage of more than 9,000 teachers as schools restart operations ahead of classrooms filling up with students.
"We've increased our number of recruitment events to make ourselves more visible in the community and we've been hosting many job fairs at school sites," Rashea Johnson said, recruiter with Sarasota County Schools Human Resources.
Manatee County School teachers returned to their classroom on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
"We're looking very good here in Manatee County as we have about 50 teachers as of this morning yet to be hired which is great for us," Doug Wagner with Manatee County Schools said.
Wagner said the district is currently processing around 18 offers and is awaiting background checks and other onboarding requirements. He explained that the challenges, which have brought about the need for more teaching staff, are not limited to a thinner hiring pool and teachers retiring or leaving the profession, but also due to an influx of families to the Tampa Bay area.
"There are a lot of people moving down to this area from around Florida but also from outside of the state of Florida, so we're in a high growth area and we're having more students," Wagner said.
Advocates said there is a crisis in the education sector and it's made worse by what they say are hostile parents and politicians along with poor incentives.
"I think our legislature has really hurt our profession by bringing in a lot of politics into what teachers can and can't say in schools," Rex Ingerick said, president of Sarasota Classified Teachers Association. "Salary is only one piece of it., I think there's prestige, I think there's a lack of a pipeline for our education system," Ingerick said.
Other districts, like Hillsborough County, said they plan to use substitutes and district-level personnel if they can't fill the critical positions.
It's not only school teachers that are in demand but also other vital operation staff. District officials said bus drivers and bus assistants, as well as cafeteria and custodial staff, are also needed in the different school districts.
School districts said they are urging people with qualifications and those who are looking for a different career to visit their websites for available openings. The Sarasota County school district has 10 recruiting events scheduled and can be shown below.
• 8/5/22: Pine View School, 12:00 p.m.- 2:15 p.m.
• 8/8/22: Tuttle Elementary School, 1:00 p.m.- 3:00 p.m.
• 8/8/22: Alta Vista Elementary School, 4:00 p.m.- 5:30 p.m.
• 8/8/22: Laurel Nokomis School, 10:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m.
• 8/8/22: Taylor Ranch Elementary School, 1:00 p.m.- 4:00 p.m.
• 8/8/22: Brentwood Elementary School, 5:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.
• 8/9/22: Atwater Elementary School, 2:00 p.m.- 4:00 p.m.
• 8/9/22: Woodland Middle School, 9:00 a.m.- 12:00 p.m.
• 9/6/22: North Port High School, TBA
• 9/21/22: Riverview High School, 5:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.