‘We’re willing to do whatever it takes’: School district getting creative to fill persistent teacher vacancies

More than halfway through the school year, Osceola County Schools still has an average of 60 empty teacher positions. To fill them, the administration is having to get creative.

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — More than halfway through the school year, Osceola County Schools still has an average of 60 empty teacher positions. To fill them, the administration is having to get creative.

Channel 9 reporter Michael Lopardi found out the district has paid out thousands of dollars in referrals to help fill the vacancies, and has hired teachers from across the globe.

The district paid its own employees $20,000 over the past two years for referring job candidates who eventually got hired. Each successful referral nets $250.

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Osceola County Schools said it paid $20,000 to its own employees for referring job candidates who were hired on as teachers.
Osceola County Schools said it paid $20,000 to its own employees for referring job candidates who were hired on as teachers. (WFTV.com News Staff)

Chief human resources officer Tammy Otterson said the program works, helping to land 38 teachers.

“It is very fierce, the hiring of quality candidates,” Otterson said.

And the district is going to great lengths to find them, traveling more than two dozen times last year to recruit teachers as far as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“We're looking at other places off the beaten path that maybe other districts aren't going to,” Otterson said.

Even across the ocean.

Osceola County brought in more than 30 foreign teachers from places including the Philippines, Egypt and Ghana starting last year.

“We're willing to do whatever it takes,” Otterson said.

Lopardi asked how their performance compares to their American counterparts.

Otterson said their students’ growth was the same or similar.

Amy Dipri said she was recently offered a teaching job at a local job fair.
Amy Dipri said she was recently offered a teaching job at a local job fair. (WFTV.com News Staff)

Amy Dipri said she was recently offered a teaching job at a local job fair. She said she knows going into it that teaching is a tough job.

“I don't think it is appreciated the way it should be,” she said.

Andrew Spar, vice president of the Florida Education Association teachers union, said he knows the struggle to fill teacher jobs all too well.

“I think any effort we can make to try to get people to come into the profession is great but it's once they get there, what we’re doing to help sustain the profession and that's really the challenge we see,” Spar said.

He said the bonuses and other programs that school districts offer to recruit teachers are not long-term solutions.

The union is calling on Florida lawmakers to boost pay and funding for public education.

This weekend, teachers from all over Florida will gather at Lake Eola Park to send Tallahassee that message. Event organizers expect to draw at least 1,500 people to push for better state funding for public education starting at 1 p.m. Sunday.

But even for newcomers, that may not be enough.

“Until they make teaching more of a desirable career, I think they’re going to keep running into problems,” teaching candidate Dipri said.