NAPLES, Fla.- Southwest Florida school districts are facing a teacher hiring crisis with hundreds of openings and few people available to fill them.
The situation has grown so dire, representatives from local schools are travelling thousands of miles, looking for recent graduates who are willing to make the move to Florida for their first teaching job.
Ian Dean, executive director of Human Resources for the Collier County School District, recently traveled to Pennsylvania to recruit teachers.
“That’s an area of the country where there’s a huge number of colleges with teacher prep programs, but very few teacher openings. So, it’s a prime location for us to identify candidates and recruit those candidates,” Dean said.
Collier County needs 300 teachers before school starts in August. Lee County is looking to hire 500 teachers, and Charlotte County has 80 open teaching positions for the 2016-2017 school year.
One of the biggest challenges in getting teachers to take jobs in the area is the cost of living.
Rachel Elliot, who’s in her first year of teaching at Manatee Elementary School in Collier County, says she loves her job but she admits the cost of living in Collier County is a tough hurdle for new teachers.
“I think the lowest rent I could find, in a neighborhood where I would feel secure, was probably around $1,000 a month,” Elliot said. “That’s definitely not doable, even with my second job coaching.”
The Collier County School District says the cost of living is the number one deterrent for getting teachers to commit to a teaching position in the area.
“We have some examples of people that accepted offers, and then had to come back to us and rescinded that offer, based on their assessment of the cost of living,” Dean said. “They go online, they try to look for other housing options and they can’t find anything to rent and when they look to buy, it’s out of their price range on a teacher’s salary.”
New teachers in Collier County are among the best paid in the state, starting at about $40,400 per year. New teachers in Lee County will make $40,000 next year and in Charlotte County they’ll make around $38,000.
Some new teachers say that’s just not enough to make ends meet.
Many, like speech language pathologist Alyssa Hayes, have second jobs to bring in more money.
“It is extremely difficult. I needed to rely on family to help me with housing,” Hayes said. “I’ve actually picked up an after school job this year… working here at Manatee Elementary through our club program.”
Both Hayes and Elliot love teaching and love the kids they serve at Manatee Elementary. They understand the positive impact they can have on students, but they hope for more resources to make their jobs more about education, and less about the financial struggle many teachers face.
“We have outstanding teachers,” Dean said. “We want to make sure they continue to receive the support that they need, that they have the tools they need to be successful and we are doing everything in our power to make sure that’s the case and that we continue to have outstanding teachers in the classroom.”