POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Local school districts are scrambling to find substitutes to fill in when a teacher is absent.
“With more teachers quitting and less substitutes it's going to create a deficit,” said Octavio Hernandez.
Hernandez is an algebra teacher in Polk County Public School District. He said there’s a dire need for substitute teachers in Polk County.
“I went on bereavement, and I also was sick myself, but it was very difficult to find a sub,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez said they’ve had to pull teachers from other classrooms to cover for teachers that are absent.
“We created a group of teachers that will volunteer to leave during their lesson plan to cover, or we also use coaches from the school and other resources, including teachers to cover for these classes,” said Hernandez.
He said this has caused added stress to teachers who are already overworked and underpaid. Hernandez believes low pay is the main factor contributing to the substitute teacher shortage.
In Polk County substitutes are paid $80 a day. The district has approved an additional daily incentive of $25.
“If we want more people we have to pay more,” Hernandez said.
The President of Polk Education Association, Stephanie Yocum said the teacher shortage existed before this year.
“People call it a teacher shortage but it’s really a mass exodus of people leaving the profession,” she said.
There are about 120 teacher positions open in Polk County. Yocum said the surge in COVID-19 cases in schools has made it more difficult to fill those positions. A total of 444 Polk County Public School employees have been quarantined so far this school year.
“COVID has really just exacerbated the issue, with the teacher shortage. It ripples down to substitute shortage, it ripples down to support staff shortages,” Yocum said.
She said students are ultimately the ones who suffer. “They don’t have teachers in front of them that are certified or qualified to do their jobs. You’re having to increase class sizes to put them in front of a highly qualified teacher which doesn’t help anybody,” said Yocum.
ABC Action News reached out to neighboring school districts and Hillsborough, Sarasota, and Pasco County Schools all said they are dealing with a smaller pool of substitute teachers. Kelly Education is a company used by Hillsborough, Polk, and Hernando County school districts to recruit substitutes.
“I think someone who's passionate about educating the next generation. I mean, that's really what it's about right, helping a student to be successful,” said Cheryl Courier, Vice President of Kelly Education.
Courier said substitutes don't need teaching experience and can work flexible schedules.
“There's a lot of people from different walks of life that work for us, that that can share their knowledge and experience and help us to get through the situation we're in, in our schools with our community. We need our community; we need anyone who's listening to please step up and help to inspire and teach our next generation,” Courier said.