LIVINGSTON, NJ - Scheduling and budgeting issues were of principal concern to the Livingston community at the Board of Education (BOE) meeting, which was held at Burnet Hill Elementary on Monday night.
Livingston Public Schools (LPS) submitted the first draft of the 2014-2015 district budget at the BOE meeting on Monday.
Business Administrator Steven Robinson said that the budget is still in its formative stages and that the budget being reviewed is slightly below the state law that limits the annual growth in spending by school districts to 2 percent.
“We’ve been burned a few times in the past putting numbers out too early,” Robinson said.
The budget under review maintains existing programs and funding for curriculum initiatives including the purchase of middle school math textbooks. It also allows for the addition of special education programs, including life skills programs at Heritage and Livingston High School and provides for a full Extended School Year (ESY) program instead of a summer program. In addition, LPS also plans to make use of state funding that will pay 40 percent of two facility upgrades: air conditioning in the gymnasium at Heritage Middle School, and a partial roof replacement at LHS.
The District will learn of the allocation of state aide on Thursday, February 27, and plans to present full details of the budget when the board meets on Monday, March 10, 7 p.m. at Mt. Pleasant Middle School.
Two community forums are planned for March 20, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Both forums will be held at the Livingston Public Schools Central Office, which is located at 11 Foxcroft Drive. Community stakeholders will have the chance to ask questions and make suggestions at these forums.
During the BOE meeting, Superintendent John Alfieri emphasized his desire for an open dialogue between the school administration and the community.
“We want 110% transparency,” he said. “If there’s a document you want to see, we will make it available to you. If you have a question, we want you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The Board will vote on the budget on March 24 before submitting it to the Essex County Superintendent.
A public hearing and vote on the school budget has been set for 7 p.m. on Monday, April 28.
The adjustment of the school calendar remained a contentious issue at the BOE meeting. Both board members and parents rehashed many of the arguments voiced at the February 10 meeting. Currently, April 14-16 will be held as full, regular school days. Any future additional snow days will necessitate another change to the calendar.
Parents voiced their frustration with this measure. Multiple parents noted that many students and teachers will still be absent because of pre-arranged plans, thus impeding the quality of instruction students will receive on those dates. One parent suggested that the make-up days would be filled with busy work and video watching.
Board member Leslie Winograd agreed that the priority should remain providing as many quality educational days as possible.
“If we pushed back the date of the end of the school year (as opposed to sacrificing spring recess), we would actually be adding more days of quality instruction,” she said.
Alfieri maintained that his office and each individual school principal would ensure that quality instruction would still be the expectation on a make-up day.
He said, “If school is in session, I would not be satisfied if classes were just sitting around watching videos. Every principal would not be satisfied if that were the case.”
Options that would extend the school year, while maintaining the current graduation of June 20, were also discussed. Most of the ideas involved operating LHS seniors on a different schedule from the remainder of the district. Board Member David Jasin noted that if seniors as a class do not complete 180 school days prior to graduation, their diplomas will be null and void.
Alfieri said that using Saturdays as a school day would be an act of absolute last resort. Robinson also floated the idea of having only seniors attend school on Thursday, April 17, noting that it would be preferable to a Saturday from a logistics standpoint.
The Board will discuss further measures, In the event of another snow day, at their meeting on March 10. They will also present ideas for next year’s calendar.
“We will not have this problem next year—that’s for sure,” Winograd said.