Educator shortages leading up to the start of the academic year aren't rare for New Jersey school districts, particularly the larger ones.

But the coronavirus pandemic may be making these teacher shortfalls even greater as the start of the 2021-2022 school year approaches.

"On the one end, we're not refilling the pool of candidates, and on the other end, we have those people that are deciding, 'I've had enough,'" said Todd Lawrence, owner of NJSchoolJobs.com. "Maybe COVID sped that process up for people."

Lawrence said the site, which advertises educational vacancies, experienced about a 25% increase in the number of job postings this year during the typical months for recruiting, compared to past years.

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New Jersey 101.5 recently reported that the school district in Paterson, one of the largest in the state, has roughly 100 teaching positions either open currently or expected to become vacant during the year when additional employees become eligible for retirement.

According to Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, shortages "right near the beginning of the school year" occur regularly in larger school systems — they have more positions in total, he noted, and it's common to see teachers switch from large urban districts to suburban districts after a few years on the job.

Shortages generally persist in specialty areas, such as foreign languages and special education.

Openings hopefully get filled before the school year begins, Bozza said, but sometimes the openings linger beyond the first day.

"Substitute teachers have a period of time where they can teach without being certificated in the area, but even getting substitutes has been problematic and even more so during this COVID-19 period," Bozza said. "In other cases, we have teachers that will combine classes, particularly at the elementary level."

The number of vacancies may be larger this year due to retirements caused by hesitation among teachers to return to the classroom during the lingering health crisis, but one constant for years has been diminishing interest in the profession, Bozza said.

During a back-to-school town hall event Thursday night on New Jersey 101.5 — watch the replay here — the New Jersey Education Association noted that the state's seen an enrollment reduction of nearly 50% in teacher programs over the last 10 years or so.

"This has been a problem that's been building," vice president Sean Spiller said. "This isn't just a pandemic issue."

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