Could international teachers address critical shortages? Flagler Schools is considering it

The Daytona Beach News-Journal | By Danielle Johnson | January 5, 2023

At a workshop Wednesday afternoon, Flagler School Board members considered hiring educators from other countries to address critical teacher shortages.

The potential program was presented as an “everyone wins” scenario, as it would bring state-certified, English-speaking educators to Florida to participate in cultural exchange while also filling positions in critical subject areas such as math, science and special education.

If approved at a future board meeting, educators from other countries could start teaching in Flagler Schools at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.

Flagler gets creative to address teacher shortages

“Paradise is struggling right now because we can’t attract enough teachers,” Chair Cheryl Massaro said, referring to Flagler County as ‘paradise’ because of its Florida location, which typically draws employees.

The district currently has 18 instructional vacancies, including 14 teacher positions.

Massaro noted many districts are trying to find unique ways to attract educators right now.

“I think this is really a great way to try,” she said. “I did meet a teacher that was involved. She was a language teacher, and she was incredible just to talk to.”

The agreement would be with TPG, a cultural exchange provider bringing educators from around the world for temporary placement of one to five years, though the typical stay is three years, according to the agenda item. The educators then share the cultural and educational knowledge gained with their home countries upon return.

TPG would sponsor the cultural exchange teachers’ visas and the district would employ them using a standard contract. The district would pay the educators a salary commensurate with their degrees and experience, plus a fee of $12,500 a year per educator, the contract states. It would not pay any additional health insurance or retirement; FICA taxes are waived for the first 18 months.

All in all, a board document estimates an international teacher would cost $57,500 in their first year compared to over $64,500 for a local teacher, a savings of more than $7,000. Savings for future years range from $3,876 to $5,503 annually.

Massaro called the fee a “bargain” given the high cost of visas and recruiting internationally, which she says is common in many businesses nowadays.

Colleen Conklin agreed it was affordable given the expenses they wouldn’t have to pay, but expressed some reluctance over having to go this far.

“If we had local Floridians or folks from wherever that would be available to fill some of these positions, I think that would be the best way to go, but we’re obviously not, we’re not there,” Conklin said.

Other counties recommend international teacher exchange program

According to a presentation by Chief Human Resources Officer Robert Ouellette, TPG teachers have a 95% retention rate. There are more than 2,000 cultural exchange teachers in the country across 200 districts, including 500 in Florida.

Flagler Schools has more than 2,500 employees. Ouellette estimated the district would bring in less than a dozen teachers through the program only to fill critical shortage areas, noting that “by no means do we want to replace any of our existing folks or candidates that would be highly qualified and coming out of our area.”

Ouellette said that Duval County’s school district has been happy with the program, and Massaro said it also came “highly recommended” from a Polk County board member. Volusia County Schools has informally mentioned a similar idea at a recent board meeting.

The teachers would be vetted through background checks and must have the equivalent of a four-year bachelor’s degree in education, as well as a minimum of two years experience and fluency in English.

Besides filling critical shortages, schools “win” by adding diversity to faculty, using fewer substitute teachers and improving student achievement and cultural awareness, the presentation stated. The teachers also contribute to their communities at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Board member Sally Hunt was open to the idea but stressed working to keep teachers in the district too, so as not to only put a Band-Aid on the problem. She noted the idea of bringing “a little of the world” to Flagler students was exciting.

“I agree certainly with Cheryl that we need to have teachers, and so if this is what it takes, as long as the community, the teachers, everybody knows that we are very much working to improve where we even already are with recruiting and retention,” she said.

The Flagler School Board’s next meeting is Jan. 17, at 6 p.m.

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