A nationwide teacher shortage made its way to the Highland Lakes. The good news is that both the Marble Falls and Burnet school districts will have enough teachers when the doors open for the new academic year on Aug. 18, but it wasn’t easy getting there.
“We are dealing with one of the biggest teacher shortages of my career,” said Chris Allen, superintendent of the Marble Falls Independent School District. “I’ve never seen districts struggle so much with staff, but we are doing better in Marble Falls than most places.”
Shortages in larger school districts, including Houston and Dallas, have made national news. Dallas is reportedly in a “hiring frenzy with hundreds of vacancies,” according to a local news station, while Houston posted more than 700 job openings at the end of July.
“I feel very fortunate,” said Keith McBurnett, superintendent of the Burnet Independent Consolidated School District. “Great credit goes out to the principals for jumping in on this early. Even as we closed out our school year (in April and May), they were hiring.”
Both the Marble Falls and Burnet districts reported about-average turnover in the number of teachers between last year and this year. The problem is that more of them quit later in the year than usual, especially in Marble Falls, making it harder to replace them.
“There are not a whole lot of candidates to replace them,” Allen said. “The timing of some of these resignations has created a problem.”
More teachers resigned later than usual this year because, for the first time, they were allowed to do so without penalty. A new law from the last regular session of the Texas Legislature lets a teacher resign up to the start of the school year without having their record flagged. Before this year, a teacher could be prevented from teaching for a whole year if they quit after the deadline.
School officials across the state cite the pandemic as another driving force behind many resignations.
“The teachers are intimidated by the impact of COVID,” Allen said. “Some are afraid they are going to get it and some are put off by some of the negative consequences of trying to mitigate against COVID. In addition to being a teacher, they were trying to juggle remote learning; and in addition to being a teacher, they were having to clean and sanitize; and in addition to being a teacher, they were having to handle their own personal fear and stress about getting the virus.”
In a repeat of last year’s preschool anxiety, both districts await rulings expected this week from the Texas Education Agency.
COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise, this time fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. Texas Trauma Region O, an 11-county hospital area that includes Burnet, Llano, and Travis counties, had only 16 ICU beds available as of Aug. 2.
“I think there’s a possibility some things will change,” McBurnett said. “Right now, based on today’s rules, a mask mandate can’t be put in place and a vaccine mandate cannot be put in place. We will hear additional information this Thursday (Aug. 5) on possible health protocols for the next school year.”
As for the teacher shortage, it has been solved for now in both school districts.
“Every student will have a teacher when school begins Aug. 18,” Allen said.
A long-term solution will have to be found outside of local districts.
“We are going to have to do something as a state and a nation to address the teacher shortage,” McBurnett said. “I am very concerned about the future pipeline and the availability of qualified applicants.”