When Wendy Mungillo was a principal interviewing applicants for a teaching position and saw a University of South Florida graduate in the mix, she knew the applicant would get an interview.
“I knew what kind of education they had. It was top notch,” said Mungillo, who is now the director of personnel for the School District of Manatee County. “I knew they would come to us already with a reading endorsement and all they would need to begin teaching.”
Each year, the school district hires about 250 teachers, and of those hired, approximately 15% come from the University of South Florida, but now the district might need to find other ways to bring new teachers into the district.
USF is contemplating the future of its College of Education after the university had to make budget cuts due to an expected loss in funding as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although no final decisions have been made regarding the College of Education, university officials said they intend to “continue offering carefully selected undergraduate degrees in education, though likely fewer than the nine baccalaureate degrees, 15 majors, five minors and 18 concentrations currently available,” according to a statement from university officials.
The College of Education has seen a 63% drop in undergraduate enrollment over the past decade.
“Not having that avenue to pursue a degree in education is going to make it even more difficult for us to encourage people to go into education and have a place to go locally,” said Pat Barber, the president of the Manatee Education Association.
The university is working with school districts in the Tampa Bay region to review the demand in K-12 schools for graduates of the college’s undergraduate programs.
USF’s potential changes to its College of Education could exacerbate the teacher shortage in the Tampa Bay region because the university partners with local school districts, including the School District of Manatee County, to provide jobs for its graduates.
Last year, the school district implemented a hiring program in partnership with USF Sarasota-Manatee that would guarantee elementary education students at USFSM a job in Manatee County schools if they choose to sign a contract with the district.
Mungillo said at the end of last semester the district hired between nine and 11 students through the program as substitutes after graduation, and once their degrees are conferred by the state, they can become full-time teachers.
Mungillo said without the partnership with USF, the district will have to look at other ways of recruiting, such as finding people who are interested in teaching as a second career or looking at students who are graduating with a degree that’s not from a college of education.
Barber agreed the district needs a robust recruiting program. He said that the district hires not only a lot of graduates but also people who have retired from other states.
“We have to exercise any options we have to recruit either incoming teachers or people who have been successful in other places,” he said.
Other universities and smaller colleges, such as the State College of Florida’s early childhood education bachelor’s degree program, could start taking in the students who want to pursue a career in education.
The district has signed up to provide a platform for teachers and other employees to get student loan forgiveness, which Mungillo hopes will draw new teachers to the district.
The pandemic has caused the district to reevaluate the way it conducts its job fairs. Unlike past years, the district cannot have in-person job fairs, so the fairs are conducted virtually, which has been a silver lining because now the district can reach applicants from across the country rather than only those who can attend in person, Mungillo said.
The pandemic has caused the district to have more unfilled teacher positions this year compared to the past. The district currently has 76 unfilled positions compared to 22 around the same time last year.
Some teachers have decided to retire early, take a leave of absence or leave the profession due to the uncertainty of how education would be provided safely and successfully during the pandemic and health reasons.
“It definitely has been difficult, especially when we’re moving out of these different modalities or moving out of brick-and-mortar to e-learning and back and forth, Mungillo said. “E-learning is difficult. It’s a lot to manage for teachers, and it’s burning them out a lot quicker than if they were in brick and mortar.”
Mungillo and Barber are hopeful some of those teachers will return once the pandemic ends. Mungillo said the district is working with teachers on an individual basis because everyone’s situation and reason for leaving is different.
The district is currently in a hiring freeze as it waits to hear funding projections from the state.
Although the teacher shortage has become more prevalent this year due to COVID-19, the shortage has been a national issue for several years.
Barber attributes the shortage to the state focusing on assessments rather than giving teachers the authority to run their classrooms.
“Our working conditions and our professionalism has been eroded, so that’s made our profession a lot less attractive to people,” Barber said. “The focus on assessments is far-reaching. It causes so many issues with the teacher’s ability to teach in the classroom because everything is controlled from outside. Every textbook is focused on state standards. All the curriculum is on state standards. It’s totally narrowed. It limits the ability for the teacher to be creative in the classroom because it’s almost like micromanagement from Tallahassee and all the way down the line.”
On top of that, Barber said the state is not providing sufficient funding for education.
“What we all need to do is focus on increasing our salaries so we can compete,” she said.
In June, Florida lawmakers approved the allocation of $500 million to raise teacher pay and make a teacher’s starting salary $47,500.
The district is still working with the Manatee Education Association to reach an agreement on the salary increases for starting teachers and veteran teachers.