Polk County Schools looking to fill 100 positions as students get ready to go back to school

Polk County schools are scheduled to open a few weeks and like other districts around the state, the county still has teacher positions that have to be filled fast.

The pool of applicants decreased as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed. Out-of-state job-seekers have become increasingly concerned about potentially moving to Florida, which is now known as a coronavirus hotspot.

“It is not that they’re asking questions,” Jessica Solano, a former Florida Teacher of the Year, who now works in Human Resources for Polk County Schools, told FOX 13. “They’re saying, I am seeing what’s on the news, and I am going to stay put.”

So Polk changed its strategy. It is now concentrating on finding the next generation of teachers among people who are already living in the state.

Its goal is to fill the remaining 100 or so positions before the new school year begins, tentatively scheduled for August 24.

Last year at this time, Polk needed to find about 200 new teachers. Polk says it is ahead of the curve this year because it has been very successful in recruiting virtually.

At a virtual job fair earlier this year, more than 700 people checked in. That’s twice as many as the year before.

Recruiters also say hiring new teachers earlier this year worked out well too. A lot of teachers accepted jobs where there was less concern about contracting COVID-19.

"A bunch of them are coming from Pennsylvania, Georgia,” and elsewhere, said Solano. “They have already moved into their new apartments or homes and they’re settling in.”

Solano said she knows of only a handful of out-of-staters who were offered jobs, then later decided not to accept them.

At the same time, many experienced Polk teachers have been vocal about not wanting to go back to the classroom amid a pandemic.

“Our state government has pretty much given us a march to the slaughterhouse,” said Polk Education Association President, Stephanie Yocum, who represents Polk’s teachers. “They have not given the district the resources or the time needed to adequately develop plans that are going to keep staff and students safe.”

That’s something that teachers, new and old, will have to deal with, very soon.