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Hillsborough County Public Schools need to find more than 1,000 workers for next school year

A woman wearing a mask stands in front of a table and talks to two other women behind the table. A fourth woman stands in the background.
Bailey LeFever
WUSF Public Media
Hillsborough County Public Schools hosted a hiring fair Tuesday in hopes of bringing in new teachers, aides, custodians, bus drivers and other staffers for the 2022-23 school year.

The Hillsborough School District's hiring fair this week and other efforts aim to fill close to 800 instructional jobs and more than 150 bus driving positions.

Throughout the pandemic, many people have left the workforce or found new jobs or careers. And in the meantime, some fields — like education — are hurting for workers.

Many of the Tampa Bay region's school districts need to fill positions. Hillsborough County Public Schools hosted a hiring fair in Brandon Tuesday, hoping to find teachers, bus drivers, custodians and more.

Althea Walker is the department manager of recruitment for the seventh largest school district in the country.
She said Hillsborough has more than 1,500 open positions, including close to 800 instructional jobs and more than 150 bus drivers.

"We're definitely just trying to make sure that we have those qualified personnel who are representative of our student population to come in and also serve them and help educate them in a variety of ways," she said.

Walker said the district is hoping to bring in people who may be transitioning between careers, retired, or are re-joining the workforce after raising children.

They hope to fill the open jobs by the first day of the next school year, August 10.

The district — and many nationwide — have struggled especially to recruit and retain bus drivers, said Kelly Horncastle, the supervisor of training for transportation for the district.

Both the coronavirus pandemic, and competition from other driving-heavy companies have leveled hits on the department's workforce, he said.

'We've found it extremely difficult to fill the positions," Horncastle said. "We're about 150 drivers short right now, and so you can imagine what that does to try and get kids to school in a timely fashion. It's next to impossible."

Over the past year, the county has raised its hourly wage for drivers to about $16, which is better than most surrounding districts, he added.

The district also offers free training and onsite testing for applicants.

But the situation has not improved since the pandemic began.

"If anything it's gotten worse just because everyone's opening their doors to new employees," he said.

Horncastle foresees difficulty in bringing in new recruits this summer.

"I think we're going to be behind the eight ball for the entire year to be honest," he said.

Read — and hear — more from local teachers in WUSF's Teacher Voices series

Marianne Bolton lives in Plant City. She had worked at Wal-Mart before leaving a couple of years ago to take care of her grandkids full-time. She's also had to cash in her 401k to pay the bills.

"I tried to do it, work, but with being an assistant manager, you work a lot of hours, and then trying to take care of four kids it's kind of hard," she said. "I couldn't do it."

Bolton, who said the search for a job has been hard, put in an application at the fair for a custodian position.

She hopes she'll find a job soon.

"Just keep going at it."

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
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