School is back in session for more than 300,000 public students in Pasco and Hillsborough counties, but both districts continue battling staffing shortages.
Pasco County had 355 openings for teachers and 55 openings for bus drivers as of last week, according to Steve Hegarty, public information officer for Pasco County Schools.
The number of instructional vacancies is even greater when positions beyond classroom teachers are considered, Hegarty said.
The same goes for shortages of bus drivers, he added, referring to 55 driver vacancies.
“We are also short relief drivers, and there are always “call outs,” which is to say that we have a person assigned to that route, but they called in sick or had a family emergency. So the 55 number simply tells you how many open positions we have,” Hegarty said.
Hillsborough County Schools also is reporting a significant number of open positions.
The district has 837 bus routes, said Erin Maloney, director of media and public relations. It has 664 drivers and 174 driver openings.
As Pasco heads into the 2022-2023 school year, the district has added a new high school — the Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation. The magnet school, located in Wesley Chapel, offers a broad range of instruction, including technical and rigorous academic programs.
Students attending the new school will be able to pursue certifications, standard diplomas, Advanced Placement and dual enrollment programs.
Also, Centennial Elementary School, in Dade City, has transformed into a STEAM magnet school beginning this school year.
In Hillsborough County, Maniscalco Elementary and Lutz K-8, both located in Lutz, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in terms of the largest academic gains since 2019, Maloney said.
Both schools earned A grades.
As students headed back to school, motorists driving down local roads on Aug. 10 were reminded in some locations by flashing signs about the need to slow down, because school was back in session.
On U.S. 41, near Lutz K-8, signs emblazoned with a photo of Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, urge drivers to show down.
Even in normal years, transportation always is challenging during the early days of a new school year.
On top of those typical challenges, Pasco and Hillsborough both are grappling with bus driver shortages. Plus, Pasco changed its policy this year — eliminating “courtesy busing” for sixth- through 12th-graders.
That change has caused families to readjust, as they figure out how to get their children to school — and some parents, who recently appeared at a Pasco School Board meeting, questioned the method used to measure the distance between their home and their school.
They also told the board that the change is posing a hardship for them because it is not safe for their children to walk to school, but they aren’t able to drive them because they must be at work.
During the same board meeting, Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco (USEP) and school board members Colleen Beaudoin and Megan Harding urged Superintendent Kurt Browning to do whatever the district can do to lighten the load on employees.
Peace said he expected dialogue to continue on that topic.
“As we gear up for this new year, I hope that we can work together to see to it that we have a positive start to the year and that our employees can feel respected,” Peace said.
Beaudoin and Harding both cited the number of resignations and retirements, and said action is needed to stem the tide.
Beaudoin said the district needs to brainstorm to find ways to take things off the plates of teachers and administrators.
“We really have to lessen the burden on them, in as many ways as we can. They’re working with students every day. Please consider this in your planning,” she said.
Harding shared similar sentiments: “We must continue to look at the workload we are putting on our teachers and staff, and must continue to look for ways to support teachers and staff, around discipline.”
School board members in both Pasco and Hillsborough hope that a proposed referendum to raise property taxes in each county will help them to attract and retain quality staff.
Voters will decide the issue in each county during the Aug. 23 Primary Election.
In Pasco, opponents to the additional tax have spoken at public meetings, criticizing the timing of the vote, noting that primary elections typically attract fewer voters.
Critics also cite funding sources they believe are adequate to address district needs.
District officials, however, have detailed that much of the funding provided must be spent on specific programs.
Pasco County Schools
Size of district: 86 schools; approximately 84,650 students
Number of classroom teachers: 5,136
Staff shortages: 355 teacher vacancies; 55 bus driver openings
Hillsborough County Schools
Size of district: 250 schools; approximately 225,000 students
Number of teachers: 14,000
Number of bus drivers: 664
Staff shortages: There are approximately 670 instructional openings and 690 non-instructional openings
Published August 17, 2022