BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – As the new year school begins for the more than 257,000 students in Broward County, the district is facing a shortage of teachers —and even a shortage of bus drivers.
Although 1,040 new teachers were hired for this school year, the district still has 365 teacher vacancies that need to be filled.
According to Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco, disrespect and unreasonable mandates are all factors that have led the district to this point — and she says while educators are doing so much for their students, such as even going out of their way to purchase school supplies and snacks for them, the lack of funding makes many teachers feel as though they are not valued.
“Teachers are taking money out of their own pocket to take care of their own classrooms, to take care of their students, whether it’s feeding them or whether it’s giving them school supplies,” adds Fusco.
Due to this, and the lack of bus drivers, some parents are voicing their concerns about transportation issues that arose on the first day of school, including one parent who said he was told the day before school that a bus wouldn’t be able to pick up his 10-year-old son and another who said her child was waiting for about 50 minutes for the bus to pick him up from school.
According to the father whose son attends Franklin Academy in Cooper City, he received an email the afternoon before school started to inform him that a school bus wouldn’t be able to pick up his son.
He said after numerous emails, he was told a school bus could drop his 10-year-old son about 2 miles from his home.
The parent said they have two other sons who attended the school and that transportation wasn’t an issue for them before.
Another parent who reached out to Local 10 News said she called the Student Transportation Department after her son failed to return home from school Wednesday, only to be left on hold for 30 minutes before being hung up on. The mother said she tracked her son down through his iPhone and found him still at school with other students who were also waiting for their buses.
The woman called the Transportation Department a second time to get some answers, but waited on hold again for 40 minutes, she said.
“On the Broward school website it says to expect delays, but how long of a delay is enough to cause concern?” the woman asked.
A third parent told Local 10 News that her two daughters were never picked up from Beachside Montessori Village School in Hollywood on Wednesday.
“I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know where the kids were,” Renata Katayev said.
Katayev told Local 10 News that her daughters waited for the bus for 40 minutes before administrators brought them back inside so they could call their parents to come get them.
“They said about 100 kids were not picked up by buses. (They said) they didn’t hear anything from the transportation about why the buses didn’t come,” Katayev said.
A spokeswoman from Broward County Public Schools said it was actually 20 students who needed to be picked up Wednesday by their parents or guardian.
She said the bus situation improved significantly Thursday morning compared to the day prior.
“Since this was the first day of school, it is possible some school buses may have been delayed in their routes,” a statement from the Broward County Public School District read. “The Student Transportation Department is working hard to address any issues or concerns. Parents or guardians can also contact the Student Transportation Department – contact information for each of the terminals is available at browardschools.com/transportation.”
Besides some issues with transportation, school officials say the first day of school went smoothly for the district’s 257,000 students.
“Broward County Public Schools students are back where they belong, in class and on campus,” Broward School Board Chair Rosalind Osgood said.
This year, there are 1,040 new teachers, but the district still has 365 teacher vacancies that it’s trying to fill.
And on Wednesday, they did have some people who refused to follow the district’s mask mandate.
“We actually, throughout the entire district, we only have two cases. One staff, one student across the entire district, and the parent said, ‘You know, we are going to look into it,’” Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said.
Last week, the state of Florida threatened to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who refused to make mask-wearing optional for students and staff.
Cartwright defended the board members who defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order.
“They are exercising their rights under the Constitution and their duty to provide for a safe environment for the local school district,” she said.
Before the first day of school even began, Cartwright says 436 students and 191 school district employees were placed in quarantine.
Now, the district says they are actively looking for bus drivers by engaging in a robust recruitment campaign to fill around 190 vacancies, offering benefits such as free employee health insurance.