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LIVINGSTON, NJ – Local government officials and public school administrators turned out en masse at Monday’s Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meeting to bid a fond farewell to Jim O’Neill as he completed his second stint as interim superintendent for Livingston Public Schools (LPS).

Having served the district in the same capacity during the 2014-15 school year, O’Neill returned to helm the LBOE this past year when former superintendent Christina Steffner resigned her post on July 31, 2019. Familiar with the district’s key stakeholders and backed by more than 40 years of experience as a New Jersey educator and school administrator, O’Neill was asked to return to help the LBOE locate, vet and hire a permanent superintendent as well as to provide an informed, experienced resource that could seamlessly contribute to the Board as it addressed other LPS issues that arose during the course of the year.

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“Jim O’Neill has saved this district twice,” said LBOE President Buddy August. “He was with us years ago and last year he came to help us out of our troubles. With deep appreciation to your commitment to Livingston Public Schools, we recognize that each and every day you brought your wisdom, experience and integrity to our students.”

August presented O’Neill with a plaque of recognition on behalf of the LBOE for his outstanding service.

“I just want to say what a privilege it’s been to work with Jim and the Board during this time,” said LPS New jersey School Boards Association representative Charlene Peterson, who guided the LBOE on proper procedures to follow throughout their superintendent search. “You can see the results of the good work he’s done here.”

New Jersey General Assemblywoman for the 27th district Mila Jasey was also on hand to make a special presentation to O’Neill. She presented him with a joint resolution from the Senate and the General Assembly – including Senator Codey, Assemblyman McKeon and Jasey – that lists all of O’Neill’s accomplishments during his exemplary career.

O’Neill reminded those in attendance that Jasey has been a proponent of education for many years, making superintendents and the pressing issues they bring forward to her a top priority by representing their voices in the legislature to get results.

Mayor Al Anthony, joined by township council members Rudy Fernandez, Ed Meinhardt and Michael Vieira, offered their best wishes.

“I haven’t seen many towns where the town council and the school board work together as closely as you,” said O’Neill, in response to their remarks.

Livingston was not the only local school district to have benefited from O’Neill’s interim superintendent services in recent years.

“We got Jim to get us out of our mess in 2012,” said former West Orange Board of Education member Laura Lab, who attended the meeting with three of her colleagues who had previously worked closely with O’Neill to pay him tribute.  “Like any other district, we were having our problems and Jim came in and was the ‘District Whisperer.’ He just made whatever it was better and said ‘We’ll fix it.’”

Each of the LBOE members took the opportunity to thank O’Neill for his guidance and the opportunity to learn from his vast experience. 

“It made a tremendous difference in the environment in which we were working, for us, for staff and certainly for students who are always first in our minds,” said LBOE member Pamela Chirls.

“Coming to Livingston wasn’t a chore,” said O’Neill. “I think the perception that the schools weren’t doing well was simply a misperception. Every time I go into a school and talk to administrators, students or parents, I see terrific things going on. I’ve enjoyed my time here.”

As Dr. Matthew Block prepares to assume his role as new Superintendent of LPS, following an exhaustive and arduous search over the last several months, Jasey delivered encouraging news that could impact future superintendent searches for the better.

The district has long been plagued by a state-imposed superintendent 2-percent salary cap that kept many qualified permanent replacements at bay—although that’s expected to change soon, she said.

“As a result of the cap, New Jersey has lost many excellent administrators and we feel it should be the local Board of Education’s decision as to what the salary should be,” said LBOE Vice President Ronnie Konner. “In fact, it wasn’t just a cap; it was a freeze. If the superintendent had a five-year contract, their salary was frozen for five years,” she explained.

Jacey reported that a vote to remove the salary cap is expected to take place this Thursday.

“Sometimes the simplest things take the longest,” she said.