PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — School staffing shortages are a nationwide issue. Unfortunately, Florida is also experiencing shortages when it comes to teachers, bus drivers and custodial staff.
One Pinellas County teacher attended a rally on Tuesday night to fight for the state and district to pay teachers more. Tracey McConnell has been a teacher for 18 years. She currently teaches third grade at Pinellas Central Elementary. She also has two kids who attend Pinellas County schools.
McConnell said the surge in COVID cases due to the omicron variant has been felt inside schools. Teachers and students have been out sick.
When teachers are out, some students are left to learn on their own.
"Teachers are getting sick, then they’re out, and then because the lack of subs, there’s nobody to take the students," McConnell stated.
When a teacher is out, McConnell said sometimes classes are split up.
"We’ve had to split them so you wind up with your kids plus somebody else’s kids in your classroom so it’s larger," McConnell said.
As a mother, she said she knows her son has been left without a teacher in some cases.
"I know my son has gone through two different math teachers this school year," McConnell stated.
McConnell explained when students are out sick due to COVID, they aren't given enough time to catch up.
There is a teacher shortage in Pinellas County. A spokesperson for the district said there are currently 92 teacher openings, out of approximately 7,400 teachers district-wide. Currently, there are 252 teachers absent due to COVID.
In Hillsborough County, a spokesperson for the district said there are 1,080 requests for substitutes. The spokesperson added, "this is not abnormally high for even before COVID because we have 14,000+ teachers. Keep in mind, that includes the 400+ vacancies (classrooms where we still need to place a full-time teacher)."
McConnell said one solution to keep teachers employed and to recruit more would be to pay all teachers more.
"I’ve been teaching in the county for I think something like 18 years and I’m in a place now where I’m more than likely going to be getting a second job," McConnell said.
On top of pay, McConnell believes teachers need to be valued.
"Something needs to be done by the state and the district so that we are getting more substitutes to teach," McConnell added.
McConnell worries if teachers continue to leave it could hurt future students.
"I really worry about the state of public education because where are we going to be in a couple of years if it continues with us bleeding support staff teachers and bus drivers. What’s going to happen when there’s no way for those kids to get to school or when they get there there’s no one to teach them," McConnell questioned.
McConnell doesn't plan to quit or retire, but hopes her speaking out will have state leaders recognize how teachers need to be cared for.
"We just also need to feel that were valued by the state and our employers," McConnell stated.