PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Hundreds of potential teachers and other school staff members are held up and waiting to work in Palm Beach County public schools.
A backlog in the human resources clearance process is leaving qualified employees hanging in the balance and compounding the teacher shortage problem.
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School district leaders said they would like it to take about 15 days to hire and process an employee to begin work. But right now, it's taking nearly double that amount of time — an average of 26 days — which they admit is too long.
"We can't hire overnight," said school board member Alexandria Ayala. "We have a lot of processes in place to protect our students, and that has to take place. But we also shouldn't be taking longer than that two-week period."
Ayala is one of several Palm Beach County School Board members worried about the delays in getting teachers in the classroom.
"We're concerned because we have real needs in our schools. We have shortages," Ayala said. "The number one thing we are prioritizing is having a qualified teacher in front of our students, getting a bus driver who drives safely and responsibly in front of our buses and our kids."
WATCH: Palm Beach County School Board discusses teacher clearances
Right now, teacher vacancy numbers in the School District of Palm Beach County are lower than this time last year. But hundreds of employees are hung up in the hiring process.
"I think this year, in particular, we had a large influx of vacancies and a very high hiring number this summer, specifically in August. So we had a large influx of employees to bring through that process," said Erica Reger, the chief of human resources for the School District of Palm Beach County.
Superintendent Mike Burke said part of the problem is when people were hired.
The district hired 3,938 employees for this school year. Burke said 441 of them were hired in June, 836 in July, and a whopping 1,644 in August.
"We have about 800 employees waiting to be cleared now for instructional positions," Reger said. "The majority of those were hired toward the end of August, beginning of September."
Reger took over as human resources chief in April and said her team is working around the clock to process employees as fast as possible and get them into the schools.
The clearance process includes drug tests, fingerprinting, background checks, and checking certifications.
"More resources would always help with that," Reger said. "We are looking to how we can bring more resources to the process and utilizing internal resources first, however we can."
Ayala just hopes quality employees don't decide to go somewhere else.
"I don't want anyone to turn around and say, I want to pull out of this process because it's taking too long, and we lose a positive prospective applicant," Ayala said.
A few things the district is doing to help the situation include hiring a human resources director to oversee the clearance process, working to streamline and improve communication with applicants, and allocating more resources for fingerprinting, which often causes delays.