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Why are Palm Beach County public school teachers leaving the profession?

1,205 instructional staff members left jobs last school year, compared to 737 in 2019
A Palm Beach County public school classroom during the 2021-22 academic year.jpg
Posted at 3:46 PM, Sep 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-21 17:21:32-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Newly released numbers are shedding some light on just how many Palm Beach County public school teachers are leaving the profession and why.

Records show the number of instructional staff members leaving their jobs in the School District of Palm Beach County jumped from 737 in 2019 to 1,205 last school year.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education

"I don't think I could have been any luckier than finding the company I did and getting out of teaching when I did," said former Palm Beach County teacher Jennifer Zanardi.

Zanardi left her teaching job at William T. Dwyer High School in Riviera Beach at the end of last school year to go into corporate recruiting. She said the biggest factor was pay.

Former Palm Beach County teacher Jennifer Zanardi speaks to WPTV on Sept. 21, 2022.jpg
Former Palm Beach County teacher Jennifer Zanardi speaks to WPTV on Sept. 21, 2022.

"I always loved teaching. I loved working with the kids," Zanardi said. "Just as things started to go on and legislation started to be made and inflation, I could no longer afford to support my child on a teacher income."

Zanardi said that while COVID-19 was difficult to deal with, it was the perception of her profession afterward that pushed her over the edge.

"It was pretty disheartening when teachers were heroes because we were able to completely switch and do online school and make it happen, and then we were the enemy again and we couldn't do anything right and we were failing the kids," Zanardi said.

Then came new laws in Florida, like the controversial "Parental Rights In Education," which critics call the "Don't Say Gay" measure.

"I just couldn't jump on that ship. There was no way that I was going to be able to deal with that new law. It's hurtful," Zanardi said.

WPTV reviewed resignation numbers for instructional staff members over the past few years in the School District of Palm Beach County. That includes teachers, school counselors, and others.

Of the 1,205 instructional staffers who resigned last school year, 56 of them said it was because they were "dissatisfied with pay," double the number from 2019.

51 of them said stress on the job, also double the number from three years ago.

The majority of employees resigned for personal reasons, relocation, or "other resignation."

REASON20192020202120222023 YTD
Dissatisfied with Supervisor829192
Dissatisfied with Job10133150
Dissatisfied with Pay281013566
Family Reasons22440
Inadequate Benefits00100
Lack of Opportunity for Advancement539113
Other Resignation19312424834727
Personal Reasons18316326531326
Relocation23918830334012
Return to Continue Education322331250
Stress on Job222027514
Failure to Return from Leave131212170
Job Abandonment23570
Grand Total737563930120580

"We have to acknowledge, me as a board member, going through what we've gone through the past two years, acknowledge the climate in the state of Florida for educators and the things that have made it less desirable for people to want to be in this profession," said Palm Beach County School Board member Alexandria Ayala.

Teacher burnout is top of mind for school board members and Superintendent Mike Burke as the school district tries to work through these issues happening nationwide.

"The problem is the profession is not attractive to young people anymore," Burke said at a Sept. 7 school board meeting. "Teachers are telling their kids, don't go into this line of work. So until we do something to elevate the profession to be back on par with a nurse or fireman or police officer, I think we're going to have a really hard time."

Superintendent Mike Burke of the School District of Palm Beach County speaks at a school board meeting on Sept. 7, 2022.jpg
Superintendent Mike Burke of the School District of Palm Beach County speaks at a school board meeting on Sept. 7, 2022.

Zanardi said she's happy and at peace where she is today and hopes her friends still in the classroom can find the same.

"I hope that people start treating you with respect, that people understand teachers are not indoctrinating students," Zanardi said.

At Wednesday night's Palm Beach County School Board meeting, board members will vote on a new agreement with the teachers' union for the same 3.5% average raise they gave last year, which the district touted as the largest in the state.

At least 80 instructional staff members have left the School District of Palm Beach County so far this school year, records show.