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Schools in Tampa Bay are ready to reopen, but do they have enough teachers?

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Kelly Rivera heard Hillsborough County school district leaders tell the teachers’ union that a permanent pay increase this year is not possible.

“We are not respected,” said a kindergarten teacher at Lewis Elementary School when discussing the 2022 educational agenda. and soaring cost of living.

“After COVID, we came back and we were on that pedestal,” said Angela Ozer, Yates Elementary School’s Distinguished Student Education Specialist. “Now we are like dirt on someone’s shoes.”

Students as Dorothy C. York Innovation Academy PreK-8 Principal Katherine
Students as Dorothy C. York Innovation Academy PreK-8 Principal Katherine “Missy” Leonard speaks at Hillsborough County School District’s annual back-to-school press conference at Apollo Beach on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. Staring. The Magnet School will open for the first time on August 10th. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

Across Tampa Bay and across the country, educators are anxiously preparing for the return of students. Hillsboro, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties will open their doors on Wednesday.

School leaders say they are excited about the new initiative and the new school. But they also struggle to retain teachers as political conflicts over race, sexual orientation and gender identity permeate education. And like families, school districts are expanding their budgets to cover food and fuel.

Ultimately, Hillsborough was short of nearly 700 teachers. This does not include a shortage of an estimated 670 bus drivers, nutritionists and other support staff.

Cori Barber (left), a music teacher at Waterglass Elementary School in Wesley Chapel, talks with job seeker Elizabeth Krencil during a job fair on July 19, 2022.
Cori Barber (left), a music teacher at Waterglass Elementary School in Wesley Chapel, talks with job seeker Elizabeth Krencil during a job fair on July 19, 2022. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times ]

Officials in Hillsborough and Pasco want to make education more attractive by boosting salaries with income from property taxes. But voters said he won’t go to vote on these initiatives until August 23rd. And even if the bill is passed, the district won’t see the money until the end of 2023.

Rivera, 55, has a 20-year job, a 24-year-old son who lives at home, and a husband who teaches middle school science without much planning. Her own last year’s work was difficult, as many children lacking her preschool experience were not ready for kindergarten.

But she loves age groups. “Her eyes get so big when you say, ‘Let’s sing a song,'” she said. “Everything is very exciting.”

The staffing situation varies by district.

Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning told the school board on Tuesday that with 354 vacancies, the school may declare an education emergency that could relax some of the rules for hiring teachers.

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“Many of our young teachers tend to teach for a year or so before wanting to try something else.

In some cases, teachers may leave the school in the middle of the school year. “Starting with one teacher and then changing can become a struggle,” he says DiVincent. “I can handle it because I’m the principal, but I don’t want the students to have a hard time.”

At Pinellas, district leaders said there were no major problems. At a meeting at Bay Point Middle School, new Superintendent Kevin Hendrick said his school district had 100 teaching vacancies and only 15 absolutely needed to be filled. We planned to use a district staff member until we could find one, and if we couldn’t, that would be the new role for that district staff member.”

All Florida districts are working on changes to both educational standards and state proficiency testing schedules this year.

And then there are the concerns about state laws emanating from the parental rights movement, and Republican concerns about “awakened indoctrination” in schools. Be prepared for complaints from parents who think you are talking about inappropriately.

Some school districts already require parental permission for services that previously did not require permission. Pasco requires parents to sign online consent forms related to human growth and development courses, library use, medical services, privacy during student research, and appearances in media-related activities.

Education leaders hope the culture wars and inflationary economy won’t deter enthusiastic return to school.

Hillsborough launches its first Montessori program at Carrollwood’s Essrig Elementary and expands its offering of the university-level Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE classes).

There’s a new app for bus riders, a bilingual program in Spanish and English, and a brand new York PreK-8 school near Apollo Beach.

Pasco plans to open a much-anticipated East Side career and technical high school that has been on the district’s wish list for over a decade. The Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation offers advanced studies and programs in biomedical, engineering, and applied cybersecurity.

And Smith Middle School, where Principal DiVincent wants to double parent involvement events this year, will invite families to its educational “Fright Fest” in October.

Pinellas has expanded its college and career center to all high schools and has a wellness program sponsored by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.

Superintendent Hendrik said morale is key. “We have to move away from strictly computer-based learning,” he said. “We have to get away from ‘You’re not sick, your teacher’s not sick’ and all that stuff. We have to make school fun, and it has to be fun for teachers. We want children to say, ‘That class is essential.'”

To reassure parents terrified by the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, some school districts are displaying emergency training and equipment. Pinellas rolled out his ALERT, a platform that bundles panic buttons and apps to coordinate real-time notifications to law enforcement in the event of a break-in.

“We don’t go a day without looking for ways to improve our current system,” said Luke Williams, Pinellas School District Police Chief. “Training is ongoing and constant.”

And, as in the past, there will be new, independently operated charter schools.

On July 25, 2022, the ribbon was cut to mark the opening of Dr. Kiran C. Patel Primary School in Tonotsassa.
On July 25, 2022, the ribbon was cut to mark the opening of Dr. Kiran C. Patel Primary School in Tonotsassa. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times ]

Six-year-old Maxwell Marty sat with his mother at the July 25 ribbon cutting at Kiran C. Patel Elementary School in Tonotsassa.

“I’m sure it will be fun,” Maxwell said when her mother, Alisha Marty, said she was looking forward to her return to structure. “Problem-solving is where he gets tired,” she said of her son. “Being a pioneer here is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Superintendent Sue Barket, who took the stage at the Patel event, watched as she headed to a staff meeting to discuss faculty vacancies. The stopgap measures include temporarily redeploying 290 school district employees to make up for some teachers and accelerating the annual transfer schedule.

But Birkett got in his car and said, “If we can do COVID, we can do this.”

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.