Pajaro Valley High School.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
K-12 Education

PVUSD addresses teacher vacancies in wake of complaint, vows to keep hunting for new classroom leaders

After complaints were filed in November about the impact of teacher vacancies in the district, administrators filed a formal report detailing how many of the jobs had been filled and what they have been doing to recruit.

Following a review of complaints of teacher vacancies filed in November at Pajaro Valley High School, district officials said that two vacancies have been filled, two classes were folded into others because of low enrollment, and three vacancies remain open.

“We understand that the vacancies have had a significant impact on our system,” Pajaro Valley Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Lisa Aguerria said during a board meeting last week. “So we’ve taken some steps to help fill the vacancies that we have.”

In November, teachers speaking at a board meeting said the high school was “horribly understaffed,” with nine vacancies. Several of the teachers filed what are called Williams complaints that month. District officials at the time said that the school had seven vacancies.

The creation of the complaint procedures resulted from a 2004 settlement between the American Civil Liberties Union and state education officials about equal access to safe schools. Parents and teachers argued that the state wasn’t providing a safe learning environment in public schools. Part of the settlement led to the establishment of the complaint process and frequent school inspections.

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“The definition of a teacher vacancy as it relates to the Williams settlement is, when a position is vacant at the beginning of a semester or the beginning of the year for a yearlong class,” said Aguerria.

She said that the remaining three vacancies have had a long-term substitute since September.

During the meeting, Aguerria said district officials are attending job fairs, advertising a $2,500 bonus for all teaching positions on the job board EDJOIN and are working with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education to hire people through emergency teaching permits, among other efforts. She said the district is also talking with classified staff to see if they’re interested in pursuing a teaching credential.

Teacher vacancies have been a challenge for districts across the state and country for years. However, with absences increasing due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order earlier this month that lifted barriers to hiring short-term substitutes and extended the time a substitute teacher could be assigned to a classroom to up to no more than 120 days.

PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez said during the Wednesday board meeting that the extension was helping the district. She said she had spoken with a substitute teacher at Radcliff Elementary School in Watsonville who would have had to have left her class soon if it weren’t for the extension. She said the substitute teacher is filling in for a teacher on leave.

“That’s basically six months now that a long-term sub could stay in the classroom,” she said. “Which is really fortunate for our students, because they get connected with those teachers. So we are utilizing that right away.”

In addition to the seven complaints filed to the district about teacher vacancies, 10 complaints were filed about facilities and one complaint was filed about textbooks or instructional materials. The district review concluded that the facilities and textbook complaints had all been resolved while the three remaining teacher vacancies are listed as unresolved.

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Aguerria said the complaints about facilities were related to one school site that had significant damage to the bathrooms due to a Tik Tok challenge.

“All restrooms have been fully restored and operational,” she said. “The site has implemented additional measures to maintain the operations of restrooms.”

She said the complaint filed about textbooks or instructional materials was related to piloted materials and didn’t meet the criteria for Williams complaint procedures.