TAVARES — Students packed with excitement or dread, with new backpacks packed with unsharpened pencils, head back to class on Wednesday.
But they will be greeted by fewer teachers and staffers than needed.
The Lake County School District will be short 82 classroom teachers, 87 teaching assistants and 28 bus drivers, according to a district spokesman.
In other school news: Bill Mathias wins reelection on the Lake County School Board after running unopposed
An increase in pay
It’s not that the human resources department isn’t trying.
“We just increased starting teacher pay,” said Lake schools spokeswoman Sherri Owens.
“Lake County reached an agreement with the Lake County Education Association to give current teachers raises of up to $4,625, one of the largest pay increases announced so far among Central Florida school districts, and to boost starting pay for teachers up to $48,500,” the district announced in a July press release.
“The district is hoping the increases will help recruit and retain teachers at a time when teacher shortages are making headlines across the country,” the release stated.
“Hardly any school has escaped the staffing hardships that have become so prevalent—shortages that predated the pandemic, but deepened as exhaustion, illness, and disillusionment about pay and other issues took a toll on morale across the K-12 workforce and other dynamics in the labor market made recruitment and retention so difficult,” “Education Week” magazine reported in its July 15 edition.
School districts across Florida are still trying to hire 9,000 teachers before school starts, according to the Florida Education Association.
Fox 13 in Tampa, which reported the statewide statistics, said Hillsborough County has 1,400 openings, half of which are teachers.
On Friday, Lake schools announced it had reached an agreement with the union that represents non-instructional workers, which includes a 6 percent increase in pay. It also includes a $1,000 critical shortage bonus for bus drivers and other hard-to-fill positions and a state-mandated $15 minimum hourly wage.
District leaders are hopeful "the increases will help recruit and retain bus drivers and other employees at a time when shortages are making headlines across the country,” a district press release stated Friday.
“These employees are essential to the work we do in support of our students,” Superintendent Diane Kornegay said in a statement. “They are valued and appreciated, and the pay increase is very well deserved."
Jamie West, a non-instructional recruitment partner for the district, said she plans to create engaging ads and social media campaigns to promote the raise as soon as the agreement is ratified.
“We anticipate the applicant numbers to increase due to the competitive pay changes," she said in a statement. "We also predict that school bus drivers will see the largest turnaround when it comes to quantity of applicants due to this pay increase and the supplemental bonuses for the position.”
A spokesman for the Service Employees International Union said he was pleased with the agreement but said there is still work to be done for supervisors.
'When schools lack adequate staffing, all students lose out'
This spring, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced $800 million in this year’s budget to raise minimum teacher pay and increase veteran teacher salaries in Florida for the third year in a row.
Florida also announced an innovative plan to allow military veterans who have not yet earned their bachelor’s degree to obtain a five-year temporary teacher’s certificate.
Veterans must have a minimum of 48 months of active duty with an honorable or medical discharge. They must also have a minimum of 60 college credits with a 2.5 grade point average.
Veterans teaching in Florida: 5 things to know about how military veterans in Florida can teach without certification
The need is crucial.
“When schools lack adequate staffing, all students lose out. Children with disabilities and English-language learners miss out on specialized services and instruction that are essential to their learning and success. Students from poor families and rural students who live far from their schools lose convenient, free transportation and crucial learning time in school. And all students in need of extra academic help miss out on instruction when teachers and support personnel are stressed, demoralized, and absent,” “Education Week” reported.
“The starting pay for teachers in Lake will jump from $45,725 to $48,500, surpassing the $47,500 minimum Gov. Ron DeSantis set as a target for districts statewide. Most differential pay positions will get a 15 percent boost for teachers and athletic coaches who perform additional duties,” the district announced.
“Another financial win: Employees will see no increase in their contributions to health insurance in the 2022-23 school year.”
Teachers will vote on the plan in September. The raises would go into effect following ratification and school board approval.
On another staffing issue, the district will be asking voters in November to approve a 0.75 mill school safety tax to pay for school resource officers and medical health liaisons.
One mill is $1 for every $1,000 in taxable home value. A house with a taxable home value of $250,000 will cost the homeowner $187.50.
This article originally appeared on Daily Commercial: Lake County schools see teacher, bus driver shortage ahead of new year