DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. — The first day of school in Duval County is starting with almost 400 vacant teaching positions.
As students head back to school, parents and teachers can go vote early on a referendum from the school board that's part of a strategy to address the vacancies. The referendum would increase property taxes and that money would go toward teacher salaries.
According to Duval County Public Schools, they have 389 vacant teacher positions and 111 vacant paraprofessional positions as of the first day of school. The district is also short more than 660 school bus drivers and the Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene says some routes will be longer.
Right now in a Duval County teacher's first year, they make $47,500. According to Greene, a teacher who's been on the job over a decade and a half only makes about $300 more than that.
This is where the proposed 1-mill property tax increase comes in. One mill is equal to $1 in taxes per $1,000 of taxable property value. An example for homeowners: A home worth $200,000 would have an additional $200 in annual property taxes.
The money would bring in over $80 million, mostly for Duval school staff salaries.
If a tax for schools sounds familiar, you're not wrong. Voters approved a half-penny sales tax increase in 2020, but the district says that money is only for infrastructure projects.
The president of the Duval teacher's union is hoping a tentative agreement with the district to raise teacher's starting pay up to $48,700 would show the district is working to try to get more educators.
Also talking about taxes is Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry who proposed a property tax cut in his budget. It has yet to be approved by city council.
First Coast News talked with a high school teacher returning for the school year about what keeps him going and the stressors teachers are facing.
The consequences of too many teacher vacancies can be obvious, but 10th grade teacher Alex Ingram says a large crop of new teachers has its stressors too. At Ingram's school he says there are 25 new teachers out of about 200.
"What you're gonna see is that also puts a lot more pressure on the mentor teachers," Ingram said. "Because now they need to take the baby birds under their wing and help them out some. So it does stress the system a great deal, especially because it's been going on for so long."
"Stress" is a word teachers are all too familiar with from the pandemic to school curriculum becoming a hot-button issue in the legislature to school safety and now the teacher shortage.
"I don't ever fault anyone for leaving," Ingram said. "It's exhausting and some people are just tired of being tired."
Ingram has been teaching for 10 years and now hopes more can be done to get more teachers back to school too.