The Jersey City Public Schools’ Substitute Teacher Shortage

Jersey City has an expensive and pervasive substitute teacher staffing problem. When Dr. Marcia Lyles was hired as the superintendent of Jersey City Public Schools (JCPS) in the fall of 2012, she inherited what was a deeply flawed in-house substitute teacher staffing process. To remedy the problem, Dr. Lyles oversaw the procurement of Source4Teachers, a private educational staffing company that manages the daily placement of substitute teachers. But complications have arisen. Since 2012, the need for substitute teachers in JCPS has grown by approximately 30% from an average of 192 teacher absences in 2012/13 to an average of 300 absences in 2014/15. The leadership of the district’s human resources department changed as well.

Flawed In-House Operations

In early 2013 the JCPS business administrator compiled a study based on district payroll data to better understand the substitute staffing process. The study was shared with the public at the July 2013 Jersey City Board of Education (JCBOE) meeting, and it revealed widespread misallocation of substitute teachers. For instance, in October 2012, Ferris High School had 253 teacher absences but only 138 substitutes, resulting in a shortage of 115 teachers at that school. At the same time, McNair Academic High School had 24 absences and 45 substitutes, resulting in an unnecessary overage of allocated substitutes. On a district-wise basis, total absences exceeded the placement of available substitute teachers. This in-house substitute staffing process cost Jersey City $4 to $5 million per year from 2010 to 2013.

Source4Teachers

In July 2013 the JCBOE awarded the contract for substitute staffing to Source4Teachers at a cap of $4 million. The plan was to use Source4Teachers for up to a year while the district improved its in-house operations.

But the plan went awry. In June 2014, the JCBOE extended the contract for an additional year. At the time, JCBOE trustees Carol Harrison-Arnold and Vidya Gangadin expressed disappointment that the district was not yet able to bring the function back in-house, as had been the plan. The contract extension was narrowly approved by a vote of 5 to 4, with Ms. Gangadin, Ms. Harrison-Arnold, Marilyn Roman, and Angel Valentin voting against it.

Later that year, in November, Celeste Williams was hired as the new chief of talent for the JCBOE, and in December Gary Murphy was promoted from principal of PS 30 to the board’s assistant director of human resources. Turnover may have been one factor in the stalled transition to bring the function back in-house.

Bringing the Process Back In-House

With time ticking and the added personnel cost growing, the JCBOE put the issue back on the agenda of its April 28, 2015 meeting. And not a moment too late. Already the board had exhausted the $4 million budget it had allocated for Source4Teachers substitutes; and with a mere 30 teachers classified as subs on the board’s own payroll (to work in over 40 schools), the district lacked sufficient subs of its own.  At the meeting the board requested an extra $1.8 million to fund Source4Teachers through May and June. But this time the contract extension didn’t pass. Vidya Gangadin, Joel Torres, Lorenzo Richardson, Gerald Lyons, and Marilyn Roman all opposed the contract extension, citing cost.

Less than a week later, the JCBOE called a special meeting amidst concerns that classrooms were short staffed. At that meeting, the Board narrowly approved $172,800 in additional funding, just a fraction of the $1.8 million it had originally requested. But at least the funds would cover the cost of a projected 75 substitutes per day through May.

With Source4Teachers no longer available and the district lacking in-house substitutes to cover demand, the burden has fallen on individual schools to manage absences. Teachers are giving up prep time or monitoring additional classes, but even this option comes at a price since teachers receive contractually mandated overtime under both circumstances. The district has yet to reveal what this price will be.

Looking forward, the city’s prospects are unclear. The JCBOE has stated its intention to fill teacher absences on a strictly in-house basis by the fall of 2015. Whether it will meet this goal remains to be seen.

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Brigid D'Souza

is a Jersey City blogger. Her blog, Civic Parent, focuses on civic issues in and around Jersey City.