Jersey City is experiencing a staffing shortage in its public schools. While this is part of a nationwide trend, local attention and solutions are needed particularly as we experience our first fully funded budget in over a decade. In this post, I am sharing data I compiled in later October from JCPS “Public Board Docs.” I compiled this data in response to a call to action from the Infinity Institute PTA, where one of my kids attends school. That PTA mobilized parents to speak at the October caucus meeting to bring awareness to this issue and also to press for more communication and solutions from the district administration and the Board of Education. The Infinity PTA also hosted a virtual forum with BOE candidates to discuss the issue.
What I wanted to do in this post was share the data I compiled and also some basic observations from this work.
- Jersey City Public Schools have been hiring full-time staff at the start of the 2021-22 school year but resignations, retirements, and leaves of absence are outpacing the new appointments.
- This appears to be a districtwide challenge, i.e. not isolated to a single school.
- The district needs to improve transparency so the public can have a better understanding of the paradigm.
A quick primer on where this data comes from: what “Public Board Docs” is.
Board Docs is the document management system used by the Board of Education to share public data related to our schools. It’s available from the district website and there is both a board-only and public version (you can access both from the “JC Board of Education” menu on the district website). Each board meeting, lots of data is shared including “Personnel” data that details:
- Leaves of Absence
- Additional staffing data like transfers and title changes.
I tried to capture all personnel actions for informational reporting purposes. Where a school wasn’t specifically identified I bucketed the personnel action into “Central Office.” I then assigned
+1 to an appointment and
-1 to a retirement, resignation, or leave of absence
This numbering was my attempt to quantify the movement by school. It’s a quick analysis, i.e. this could be improved and I acknowledge that, but it’s an attempt to start to peel back layers of the onion. All this said, I encourage anyone reading this to look not just at the visuals but dig into the underlying data too because the nuance is incredibly important.
1. Jersey City Public Schools have been hiring full-time staff at the start of the 2021-22 school year but resignations, retirements, and leaves of absence are outpacing the new appointments.
Board Docs data from August, September, and October revealed a net-negative 129 instructional personnel deficit. Here is data summarizing instructional positions which includes a mix of teachers and other positions like guidance counselors and social workers:
Non-instructional movement saw net-positive movement, though many of these non-instructional positions are per-diem (temporary daily) workers, not full-time. Non-instructional include a wide array of positions including custodians, painters, clerks, and more.
See the full dataset for both graphs above, with filter and sort options, here.
A note on “vacancy” vs “leave of absence”
At the last board of education caucus meeting the district administration highlighted “vacancies” which are positions left empty due to retirements or resignations. These are unstaffed positions that need a full-time appointment.
The “leave of absence” data is less black-and-white because it involves current full-time employees who go on leave. If a teacher is out on leave for an extended period (it’s not clear to me how long that period is) then they can be replaced with another full-time teacher; but until that happens, an uncertified substitute is used. One issue raised at the October caucus was: some students have had uncertified substitutes since the beginning of the year (so no instruction happening at all for weeks on end).
The district didn’t highlight its leave data at the caucus meeting so I dug deeper into it, creating a “start” and “end” date for leave based on the “effective data” published by the district. Update: I also removed the names in my visual, though that means the visual shows leave summarized by position. I included this data because it’s an important part of a complicated HR challenge that the district is dealing with and our kids are experiencing.
See the full visualization of leave data here.
2. This appears to be a districtwide challenge, i.e. not isolated to a single school.
The data above helps shed light on what is a complex human resources challenge facing the district. I was curious about the districtwide view, too. This issue does not appear to be isolated to a single school (eg Infinity) but rather appears to be many schools. The visual below shows staffing data by school:
3. The district needs to improve transparency so the public can have a better understanding of the paradigm.
I’ve written before on CivicParent that Jersey City Public Schools need improved transparency and accountability to ensure the fully funded 2021-22 budget is invested equitably in all schools. One improvement the district can make is to improve the way it captures, manages, and reports this staffing data to the public. Because as it stands now, it’s opaque and difficult to ascertain the picture of what’s happening.
How the data was gathered and compiled.
To create this data view I did the following:
- Copied the data from the Public Board Docs website and pasted into a spreadsheet
- I then created new fields to enable some standard coding among records. Specifically:
a) I created a “School (from list)” field that captures a standard school name. The district uses “location” for school name, but it’s not standard; for instance, “Frank R Conwell PS #3” school is listed in the district data as “PS#3” and “PS# 3.” So I coded all instances of PS#3 as “PS 3 – Frank R Conwell School” to enable a filter by school name.
b) I also created two new fields to analyze the leave of absence data, which includes a date range in the “Effective Date” field. I created two new fields: “Start date” and “End date” which enables analysis on the leave data.
- I shared this data with other parents, caregivers, and advocates to pressure test my own work but also to see how the visualizations could be improved. That process of others who care looking at this, and attempting to understand it, is a hugely value-adding exercise in the civic space.
Check out all visualizations here:
- Personnel Actions – Summary by Appointment, Resignations, Retirements, and Leaves of Absence
- Districtwide view of Personnel Data
- Leave data by School
- Personnel Actions – Search Data by Position … this is a visualization not included above but helps reveal some of the nuance.
- Search on a term like “diem” and see the degree to which the district is relying on per-diem staff (136 net-total per diem additions including 10 per-diem clerks, 42 per diem custodial workers, 36 per diem security guards, and a host of other per diem positions.
- Search on a term like “substitute” and see the district hired 51 total subs between August and and October; nine hired in August, 12 in September, and 19 in October.
- Search on a term like “teacher” and you can see a mix of teachers, teacher aides, and more.