Teacher shortage concerns: School districts call meeting over USF decision to close education college

Education

LARGO, Fla. (WFLA) – School leaders across Tampa Bay came together Friday to address a potential teacher shortage and how it will impact children in the area.

Their meeting comes after news of the University of South Florida’s preliminary decision to close its College of Education undergrad program.

Pinellas County has been leading the charge on the issue. On Tuesday, the school board passed a resolution, voicing concern about how much they depend on USF’s undergrad program for new teachers.

The district’s superintendent said they pull about 600 teachers each year—25% of their teaching staff—from the program.

USF’s Interim Dean, Judith Ponticell, told 8 On Your Side Wednesday that they’re navigating a possible $6.8 million dollar budget cut over the next two years.

Ponticell said undergrad enrollment has decreased more than 60% over the past decade, and that teachers can and are obtaining their undergrad education elsewhere.

“Is it possible that if an undergrad degree in education goes away there won’t be some impact on school districts? I would be foolish to say that won’t happen but the degree of impact is not as simple,” said Ponticell. “We also know that we have had a 63 percent decrease in enrollment at the undergraduate level. And nationally we are seeing a decrease in the number of students that get a bachelor’s degree in education.”

Ponticell said there are no official plans to get rid of the undergrad program yet, they’re in still the early planning stages.

“I have as yet to have all but one superintendent who has reached out for a personal conversation with me. And I invite that conversation, I would love to be contacted,” Ponticell said on Wednesday.

So Friday morning, they did just that.

On Friday, education leaders from across Tampa Bay united their voices to express their concern.

Pinellas County Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego was a key player in organizing Friday’s meeting with other superintendents from Pasco, Hillsborough, Polk, Sarasota, and Manatee counties. Former Florida Commissioner of Education and former USF President Betty Castor was also in attendance.

“As six superintendents, we have come with a desire to help the problem solvers, to help the University, but also to be honest, with an element of frustration,” said Dr. Michael Grego, Pinellas County Superintendent.

According to Grego, the superintendents are frustrated after trying to have a conversation with the university for years to talk about the dwindling number of education graduates they have.

He said now that the university is facing budget cuts, it’s not time to get rid of the program altogether.

Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning and Polk County Schools Jacqueline M. Byrd agree.

“We get 30% of our teachers coming from USF. Not having the undergraduate program at USF, I want to stop short of saying devastating, but it is going to have a horrible, tremendously negative impact on us,” Browning says.

“To eliminate a program that is beneficial to all of us, and really one that doesn’t need to happen,” Byrd adding. “We talk about a shortage of teachers, then what will that do to our local communities?”

Ponticell said their enrollment has gone down more than 60% in the last decade. She said last year the college brought in about $11 million but spent $19 million in overhead.

Ponticell said while they’re flattered by the resounding message about their importance in the community, they need help to make a plan about how to move forward.

“I certainly, certainly want to continue these conversations. And I really look at it from…what can we do? What are the potential ideas? What are the potential options? What are the potential pathways that we can create together?” she said.

Ponticell said the college faculty will present its plan to the USF Provost by Dec. 18.

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