HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — More than 220,000 students in Hillsborough County will head back to school one week from Wednesday.
Safety is the top priority for the district and it’s top of mind since the Uvalde school shooting in Texas.
In preparation, the district’s chief of security said there’s a direct line to the 911 center and each campus has armed officers.
Inside Ms. Tracey Scott’s kindergarten classroom at Dorthy C. York Innovation Academy, she will have 18 students.
“Their kids become my kids,” she said.
Chief John Newman said all district schools are Allyssa’s law compliant after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in 2018.
“We limit the amount of people we have on our campuses,” Newman said. “We do a lot physically for our campuses that much of that I can’t talk about, but it’s everything from window treatment to cameras access, control building signage.”
Newman said the Centegix crisis alert system is a game changer.
“You just press a button and the cavalry is coming in,” he said. “It tells us exactly where you are and who you are, so if you’re in building five classroom 505 and you activate it, we’re coming to 505.”
All 26,000 employees have this card on a lanyard.
The district is also scrambling to fill more than 1,000 open positions. It needs 680 teachers.
“We need stability,” Superintendent Addison Davis said. “Last year, we ended the school year with 400 instructional vacancies and that’s equivalent to 8000 students who did not have stability in front of them.”
Superintendent Davis wants that stability this school year. He said the district has deployed nearly 300 district staff members to cover some of the hundreds of teacher openings.
“We may have to increase class size by one or two students in an effort to ensure that there’s a qualified skilled teachers in front of them.”
While Ms. Scott currently has 18 students, she knows that may increase by next week.
“We’re willing to take 22 to 24 kids,” she said.
Davis is pushing for the mileage tax increase, which the district said will increase funding around $146 million annually over four years.
“I think something needs to happen,” Scott said. “Teachers definitely need to know that they’re valued.”
During primary elections, voters will decide.
“I think August 23 can absolutely help us in that process and allow us to retain our best and brightest,” Davis said.
The district also has over 150 bus driver openings.