Updated 9:21 a.m.
Duval School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said filling teacher vacancies will be a focus of next year’s budget.
As nationally fewer people are deciding to become teachers, Vitti said, during a workshop for next school year’s budget Tuesday, Duval is having trouble recruiting for the upcoming year. Over the last two years, the district recruited more than 500 new teachers from across the country. Duval currently has about 100 vacancies.
“We know that the number of teachers that would be coming into our district right now, if all things stay the same, would be less than it was the year before,” Vitti said.
Vitti said that could mean using reading and math coaches as full-fledged teachers.
That’s because the district has more than 320 certified teachers in positions like reading and math coaches and interventionists. They spend time with students in small groups, or helping out in classes and developing teachers. Vitti suggested cutting some of those jobs and putting them in classes full-time.
“It’s beginning to be harder and harder to justify those positions outside of the classroom when we have a vacancy challenge,” he said.
Board Chair Paula Wright urged the board to look at the district’s literacy data before deciding to cut reading coaches. Midyear data showed third graders were doing worse in reading compared to last year.
However, Vitti emailed board members data in March showing students were improving.
"We doubled down on our focus and intervention in (third-grade reading) to ensure our students were better prepared for their end of year 'gatekeeper' assessment," Vitti said in his email.
It'll be one factor the board looks at next week, when it will be presented an analysis of 20 district programs to decide which are best serving students, and which should be cut.
Another strategy to keep teachers is to promote them into a master teacher role, coaching peers “so that our strongest teachers stay in the profession and don’t leave for other districts or other professions because they’re not growing professionally,” Vitti said.
He said one area where the district struggles according to the research group, National Council on Teacher Quality, is lack of career advancement. But the group also ranked Duval high in other areas like compensation and student support.
Teacher recruitment studies show programs like paid residencies, apprenticeships and a work environment where teachers feel valued and appreciated rank high.
Vitti said the district is improving in school culture according to district surveys.
Meanwhile, the Florida Senate and Governor Rick Scott are proposing increasing education funding by about $30 million. The House, however, is proposing about a $6 million increase.
Vitti said he’s using Scott’s $33.4 million budget increase of $956 million for initial planning.
“But we also have to be prepared for a possible budget that looks like the House’s version and so we’d be prepared to take things off the table or add things depending on which one is actually passed,” he said.
In his presentation to board members he listed teacher salary increases, a reduction in some mentoring services and additional bus costs due to changing bus contractors as budget items to consider.
At the same time, he said he’s worried about future funding due to President Trump’s budget eliminating Title II funding. Duval uses it to support professional development for teachers and administration. It can also be used for academic coaches.
“If we do not receive Title II money we’d have to make some drastic decisions regarding the continuation of funding for many initiatives that directly, positively impact teachers and principals and students, mainly in the area of professional development,” he said.
His main budget worry this upcoming budget is a state bill that would require districts share capital dollars with charter schools.