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Bay District Schools Rushes to Fill Job Openings

Bay District Schools receives shipments of hand sanitizer, N95 masks and face coverings for students and teachers to use when school reopens on Thursday, Aug. 20.
Bay District Schools - Facebook
Bay District Schools receives shipments of hand sanitizer, KN95 masks and disposable surgical masks for students and teachers to use when schools reopen on Thursday, Aug. 20.

Bay District schools is hiring more than 125 teachers and support staff days before the new school year begins.

“We had to put off advertising some of the positions until we got BayLink in place and knew what our enrollment was going to be at the brick-and-mortar schools,” said Shirley Baker, the district’s director of human resources.

In-person instruction is set to begin on Thursday, Aug. 20. Roughly a quarter of the district’s 20,431 public school students - 5,257 - are opting for virtual learning. Parents who feel uncomfortable sending their children back to school next week can still register for BayLink, the district’s e-learning option.

As school employees prepare for in-person and online instruction, the district is hiring 50 teachers, 43 classroom paraprofessionals, 13 custodians and several maintenance and administrative staff members. Interested candidates can apply through the district's online job portal.

Teacher vacancies are typical ahead of every new school year, Baker said. “We’ve had teacher shortages for the last three or four years - drastic teacher shortages.”

During the pandemic, the district has a greater need for custodians and substitute teachers. Several teachers have also taken an extended leave or early retirement due to concerns about safety for themselves and their loved ones at home, Baker said.

“We have had some staff who have their own underlying conditions and have made different decisions in terms of whether or not they’ll continue their employment or whether or not they’ll take an extended leave.”

Teachers who must self-isolate at home due to illness or exposure to SARS-CoV-2 will need substitutes to supervise their classroom, even if those teachers can still connect virtually with students, Baker said. “We need additional substitute teachers because of the pandemic," she said. "So that we have more on hand just in case some teachers have to go into isolation.”

With federal coronavirus relief dollars, the district is also hiring additional cleaning staff, she said.

Baker says eight teachers are on leave or have retired early because they’re concerned about getting infected when in-person instruction begins. She says she’s also received numerous inquiries from teachers about early retirement due to COVID-19-related concerns.

“All staff have been having to make some very difficult decisions,” she said.

Alexis Underwood, vice president of the Association of Bay County Educators, the local teachers’ union, says at least 100 teachers expressed a desire to instruct students from home through Bay Virtual Schools, but there were fewer than 50 of those positions available.

For teachers with health and safety concerns, they can either return to the classroom (and require their assigned students to wear masks) or leave their job behind.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t in a position to where they can just step away in a week’s notice and take up a new livelihood,” Underwood said. “Teachers are in a very, very awkward position.”

Underwood says she’s concerned the district could see staff shortages throughout the year as the virus infects more and more of the county’s residents.

“There are only so many licensed, drug-screened, ready-to-go bus drivers,” Underwood said. “There are only so many licensed, screened, ready-to-go paraprofessionals.”

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.