Austin ISD school year begins with nearly 140 teacher vacancies

Set for School

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District is short more than 130 teachers to fully staff schools.

The shortage has hit some campuses and subjects more than others. Currently, the district is most in need of special education, bilingual and math and sciences teachers at the secondary level.

For example, at Austin High School, students reported having substitutes in their AP Biology, Economics and Advanced Chemistry classes.

Ella, a 15-year-old sophomore, said she is instead getting study hall time during that period.

“We get like 45 minutes of actual study time, and then they just put on videos, and you can just be on your phone,” Ella said. “I can tell it’s very tough on teachers. They just sound very stressed. [Administrators] are trying to figure it out and put different teachers in different classrooms.”

It’s frustrating to many students, particularly for the upperclassmen taking advanced placement courses, where your success leads to college credit.

“It’s important to get credit for your classes, but if there’s not enough teachers there, then I don’t think we are going to get the credit for the class, and we’ll have to redo it another year,” Ella said.

Ken Zarifis, president for Education Austin, said teachers at all levels are working hard to cover for one another. One fourth grade teacher KXAN spoke to was told she would need to fill in at the first grade level but was then recently switched to kindergarten.

“This is an extreme situation and once again, a new world for teachers and schools to negotiate and navigate. Let’s give people some time and some grace to work through this,” Zarifis said. “It’s something [AISD] has had to deal with the last two or three years, and we think they will be able to deal with it this year as well.”

Zarifis is correct. That staffing shortage has been a consistent and worsening issue through the years. On the first day of school in 2019, there were 96 teacher vacancies. In 2020, there were 113. And then this year, there are 138 open classroom positions.

A spokesperson for AISD said the district is using stipends and bonuses to fill open positions. And at the elementary level, 54 teachers are instructing virtually. Filling those gaps has also complicated the existing staffing plans.

“When the mask mandate happened, almost 1,000 people came back into live, in-person instruction and that threw the formulas off with virtual. That became a real challenge,” Zarifis said.

The students say as long as it gets back on track soon, they’re okay with everyone getting some extra time to reacclimate to in-person learning.

“I think it’s a problem that needs to be fixed quickly, but for the first couple weeks of school, it’s understandable that they are having a few issues,” Ella said.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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