LAKELAND - Melanie Bean had no trouble last year landing a job as a special education teacher at the same Volusia County high school she attended as a student.
But by the end of the school year, the dream job became a casualty of a statewide budget crunch. Instead of a contract for another year, her employer handed her a pink slip.
So on Thursday, Bean joined the 1,000 other hopefuls trying to land teaching jobs in the Florida school system.
“I got an e-mail from my principal in Volusia County about the fair,” Bean said. “I hopped in my car and came over.”
The quick downturn in Florida´s economy has totally reversed the atmosphere at the Great Florida Teach-In, held at The Lakeland Center on Thursday.
Just a few years ago, the state was looking for 30,000 new teachers to keep up with growth and a state law requiring smaller class sizes. And the teach-in was a recruiting event, with districts shelling out $2,000 signing bonuses to some applicants.
This year, the event was crowded with teachers who got their pink slips this summer and are job hunting, with few prospects.
“Florida was a state experiencing a teacher shortage,” said Barry Dubin, executive director of the Sarasota Classified Teachers/Association. “That very rapidly went from a shortage to a surplus.”
It is too soon to tell how many teaching jobs have been cut because most districts are still doing their budgets. A look at the largest counties, however, paints a bleak picture for those seeking employment.
Miami-Dade, the state´s largest district, cut nearly 1,000 teaching positions. Leon, Orange, Manatee and Volusia have all laid off teachers, together totaling more than 1,200.
“I would guess most people are being pretty prudent this year with their hiring,” said Darcy Hopko, human resources director in Manatee, which did not renew nearly 200 first-year teachers´ contracts. “People are being very cautious.”
Some of those newly hired teachers, once hot prospects for employers, are now finding themselves on layoff lists because they have the least experience.
This year they brought letters from employers saying their positions were cut because of budget cuts along with their resumes.
Most years the teach-in attracted more than 100 employers. This year it drew half as many.
[ Tiffany Lankes writes for the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota. ]