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Staffing struggles remain as first bell comes closer

Posted at 5:33 AM, Jul 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-28 06:11:51-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — With two weeks until the start of the new school year for many in Southwest Florida, districts are hiring as fast as they can before students step into the classroom.

Job openings range from food services to bus drivers to teachers, and in the area's largest district, Lee County, leaders are ramping up efforts to recruit — ensuring your child's school year starts off right.

"I've set a goal to get through the first year week by week," one new employee says. That will be the same tactic district leaders will be forced to do to make up for the open positions that remain.

"We still have a ways to go in some respects," said Lee County Schools spokesperson Rob Spicker. "We are holding job fairs and recruiting events and looking for employees that can still join us in a variety of roles."

As of July 27, the district still needs 80 food service staff, 69 bus drivers, and, perhaps most concerning, 230 teachers, before the first bell rings in two weeks.

"We've hired two dozen teachers in just a couple days," said Spicker.

The district is asking for parents' patience if their child rides the bus, as late arrivals are sure to be an issue with the ongoing driver shortage.

In a district with about 90,000 students enrolled, it's expected that about two percent, or 2,100 children, may be affected by disrupted bus routes.

School districts across the state and the nation are seeing similar job shortages. The ongoing affordable housing issues in our area are also playing a role.

"Attainable housing is difficult and that can be a factor in a potential teacher's decision whether or not they move to Florida," Spicker noted.

The Lee County district is bringing in international educators, each on a 3-year visa, and continuing a 24/7 recruiting push to get as many positions filled before the year begins.

Anyone interested in the food service positions can attend an information session Thursday from 9-11 a.m. at the Lee County Public Education Center on Colonial Blvd. in Fort Myers. Applications will be accepted and on-the-spot job offers could be made.

Also Thursday, the district will hold an information session on both teaching and non-instructional positions. That session will be from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at University Grill on Cypress Lake Dr.