April 29, 2014 at 7:00 AM
LIVINGSTON, NJ - “It’s human nature to want to know. I get it, I do,” Board President Barry Funt said to the gathered crowd at the Livingston Board of Education meeting at Collins Elementary Monday night.
Funt was referring to a leave of absence that will be taken by Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John Alfieri, effective immediately. No timetable was provided for Alfieri’s return, though Funt said that he was hopeful it would be a brief absence. Alfieri will continue to receive salary and benefits.
“All I can say is that it is a personal, private matter,” Funt said. “I talked with Dr. Alfieri recently and can confirm that he is in good spirits.”
District Business Administrator Steven Robinson will take over as interim superintendent. Robinson was selected because his most time-consuming annual responsibility -- the construction of next year’s operating budget -- is now completed. Relative to other administrators, Robinson will now have more free time to attend to the other logistics of running the district, according to Funt.
“I just want to assure the parents that the district remains in very capable hands,” Funt said.
The 2014-15 district operating budget was approved unanimously by the board. The approval was essentially a formality, coming after months of discussion and analysis, as well as a vetting by the county.
Board member Arthur Altman praised Alfieri and Robinson for their work in constructing the budget and explaining its processes and purposes to the Board. He also provided several suggestions for future budget construction.
“I think it would serve us well to set measurable budget goals -- discuss what-if scenarios like ‘what if we wanted to introduce a budget with zero increase?’” he said.
“I know Dr. Alfieri and Steve spent hours upon hours of doing painstaking work to construct the budget and I think it would help the Board better understand the decisions they make if we had more detailed documentation of every budget decision” he added.
Altman also suggested the possibility of the “owners” or proponents of different line-items in the budget holding financial presentations for the Board in which they explain their budget process and figures. Comparisons with peer districts were also suggested.
Board member Leslie Winograd pointed out that principals, teachers and other district employees are in constant dialogue with the Board about their spending needs throughout the year. She agreed with Altman that attaching specific dollar amounts to those discussions could be beneficial to both the Board and the community at large, however.
Robinson said that one of his primary responsibilities as acting superintendent will be to coordinate the logistics of the capital improvement projects. Issues of classroom displacement, construction safety and school security will need to be discussed. He noted that most interior construction efforts will take place either this summer or next summer, which will ostensibly limit interference with educational efforts.
“I may be jinxing myself by saying this, but I think this round of construction will go a lot smoother than the last,” Robinson said.