District office workers with teaching credentials are being asked to step in.
Tampa Bay Times | By Jeffrey S. Solochek | Updated September 2, 2021
Add substitute teachers to the list of employees the Pinellas County school district is having trouble finding.
Faced with 105 teaching openings, a number of teachers out with coronavirus infections or on quarantine, and more absent for other reasons, the district needs people to fill in. And although the district had more than 1,300 substitutes on file as of early August, they’re not all stepping up to work these days.
The situation has become so challenging that the district’s Human Resources department has told 300 staff members in the Largo administration building to prepare to help meet the need.
“We will begin utilizing all certified district staff as of Wednesday, Sept. 8, to assist in filling teacher absences,” the department memo stated.
The group receiving the memo included a wide range of employees, including associate superintendents, department directors and curriculum specialists, spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas said. Their shared characteristic: They all have teaching certificates.
The plan is to have them substitute once a month through December, for a total of four days, Mascareñas said.
“We did this last year,” she said. “This is not new.”
It was not immediately clear how much of the shortage was directly due to teachers being out because of COVID-19. According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, infections are on the rise among students and staff. The average daily number of cases among district employees is 49 so far this week, compared to an average of 28 cases last week.
The memo instructed the staff members to fill out a survey by noon Wednesday indicating their preferences, but promising nothing. Assignments will be made “based on district need. Please note: We are unable to take specific school requests.”
The directive isn’t going down well with everyone, said Nancy Velardi, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.
Velardi said she had received numerous calls and emails from non-teaching instructional staff asking if they are required to participate as the district seemed to suggest. She noted that many of the employees fall under the instructional personnel contract, which states that covering classes is voluntary.
“You can’t force them into it,” Velardi said.
The contract makes clear that if no one volunteers, the students will be distributed into other classrooms.
After hearing such concerns, Mascareñas said, the administration wanted to clarify that participation will not be required.
Pinellas is not the only school district in Florida facing a dearth of substitute teachers. The St. Johns County school system also recently reported turning to certified non-school staff to fill in.
Like St. Johns, Pinellas has plans to increase its efforts to hire more subs in the coming days. A virtual information session is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 7.
The district also is looking for more school nurses, bus drivers and bus assistants.