PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The number of vacant teaching positions in Providence has increased in the past two weeks, with 124 jobs still available ahead of the first day of school Thursday.

Spokesperson Audrey Lucas said 73 of the 124 vacancies are classroom teaching positions. The numbers don’t include any job vacancies outside of the Providence Teachers Union.

Providence has been scrambling to fill open jobs after 188 teachers resigned or retired in 2021, more than 100 of them leaving the state-run district over the summer. Another 152 teachers resigned or retired in the calendar year 2020.

There had been 96 open teaching positions on Aug. 23, the most recently available numbers prior to Wednesday, with 58 of them classroom positions. Acting Superintendent Javier Montañez said at the time the district would continue to hire teachers until the first day of school and beyond.

But the number of vacant jobs has increased since then.

The updated numbers are in contrast with remarks made by Gov. Dan McKee on Tuesday that the number of vacancies had gone down.

“As of this morning I think the superintendent has closed that gap considerably,” McKee said at his weekly news conference. “Last week … it was about 69 positions that were open. By this morning they had already placed I think almost 50 of those.”

McKee made the comments after Target 12 aired a report Tuesday morning on the teacher shortage in Providence.

As of Aug. 23, the vacant classroom jobs ran the gamut from math, science, English as a Second Language, and art teachers. The non-classroom vacancies included social workers, counselors, librarians, and school nurses among others.

Of the now-73 vacant classroom positions, Lucas said all but 18 have substitutes identified to cover the classes when students return for the new year on Thursday. (Classes without subs are typically covered by other staff in the school during their planning periods, with extra compensation.)

McKee currently has authority over the Providence Public Schools, as the state took control of the district in late 2019. He has said he wants to take a more direct role in oversight of the district, rather than leaving it to the R.I. Department of Education.

While the governor downplayed the number of vacant jobs, he also acknowledged the teacher shortage and called on retired teachers to help fill vacant positions.

“Retired teachers, if you’re looking for a great opportunity to really make a difference — and I believe that coming out of the COVID and the impact that’s it had on many of us, we’re all looking for a way to make a difference in people’s lives — this is a way to do it right in the city of Providence,” McKee said.

He said he had signed an executive order to allow retirees to work beyond 90 days without it affecting their pension benefits, something Gov. Gina Raimondo had also done to try and combat a substitute shortage earlier in the pandemic. Raimondo’s order was renewed multiple times by her and McKee until June 25, when the school year ended. His new order was drafted and signed Wednesday.

McKee also said other incentives would be announced. No specifics were provided on Wednesday evening.

Teacher vacancies are not a new problem in Providence, nor is this the highest number of unfilled classroom jobs at the start of the school year. In 2019 there were 102 classroom vacancies at the start of the year, Lucas said, while 2020 fared better with 22 classroom vacancies.

One of the stated goals of the five-year state turnaround plan is to increase the number of fully staffed classrooms at the start of the year from 95.5% (the 2019 baseline) to 98% by 2025.