Livingston Board of Education Upholds Administration's "Soft Borders" Decision

Board of Education members, from left, Charles Granata, Bonnie Granatir, Antonio Calcado and Leslie Winograd, listen to the Mintzes' appeal.
Bryan Mintz asks the Board how he can effect change to the current "soft borders" policy that allows administrators to reassign students within the district.
Livingston parent Shari Mintz makes a point during an appeal of a decision to reassign her daughter to an elementary school outside of her neighborhood.

LIVINGSTON, NJ - The Livingston Board of Education upheld a decision on Tuesday night that will send an incoming kindergarten student to a school outside her neighborhood.

Bryan and Shari Mintz, parents of the student, came before the Board on Tuesday evening to appeal a decision that will send their daughter to Collins Elementary School this fall, even though they live on Consul Road, which is nearer to Mount Pleasant Elementary School.

The student was one of nine students reassigned to Collins under a "soft borders" policy that allows administrators to redistrict school boundaries if and when overcrowding occurs. Five of the reassigned students live in the Broadlawn section of town, which historically has been served by Mount Pleasant Elementary.

In upholding the administration's decision, Board members said they could only determine if administrators had violated policy and indicated they would not second-guess the decision.

The Mintzes made a PowerPoint presentation in which they explained they had moved to Livingston in 2007.

"As two busy professionals, one of our top considerations in purchasing a home was walking distance to a neighborhood elementary school," they said in a letter submitted to the board in advance of the appeal.

In May the Mintzes were notified that in keeping with the soft border policy, their daughter had been reassigned to Collins School. They met with Dr. Brad Draeger, the schools' superintendent, and Steven Robinson, the business administrator. At that time, they were told that spots sometimes do open up, and they could remain in contact with the administration over the summer.

According to the Mintzes, they came to terms with the rationale for the soft border policy, but remained hopeful that a spot would become available and they could be considered for that spot.

In mid-July Robinson informed the Mintzes that a spot at Mount Pleasant Elementary had opened up and he proposed to conduct a lottery for the spot. The couple objected to a lottery because it disregarded factors listed in the policy that should be taken into consideration in making a reassignment and seemed arbitrary.

Robinson told the Mintzes that he was inclined to hold the spot in the event a family moved to town right next to Mount Pleasant Elementary. Following another meeting with Draeger and Robinson, the Mintzes decided to appeal to the Board of Education.

The Mintzes said the issues they were appealing were twofold. The first is that if a spot comes open in a school, that spot should not be held just in case someone moves to town right next to the school. The second is that considerations outlined in the reassignment policy should be used for reassigning a student back to his or her original neighborhood school. Specifically, they said, an objective factor such as proximity to the school should be a key factor.

Following the presentation, Board member Antonio Calcado said, "I don't find that the policy was broken."

He said it is not an uncommon practice for administrators to move students, and his own children had experienced that situation and weathered it.

Another Board member, Charles Granata, agreed that administrators had acted properly.

"There has to be some latitude in the policy," he said. "We've had situations where students right across from a school have been moved."

A third member, Leslie Winograd, said the policy doesn't address a situation in which a number of spots open up. She suggested the board address such a situation when it reviews the policy.

Member Ronnie Spring pointed out that the board does not have to agree with the administration's decision.

"Our role is limited," he said. "We have to look at did they follow policy."

Board President Bonnie Granatir noted that the reassignment was prompted by class size and was made so students can have the best possible classroom experience.

Bryan Mintz was told that he could suggest a general review of the board's policy during the public comment segment of the meeting, which he did.

Throughout the presentation, the Mintzes said they had no objection to Collins and believe their daughter would get a wonderful education there. The school has put out a welcome mat with phone calls from the principal, PTA president and many other Collins families, they noted.

Following the session, Bryan Mintz told The Alternative Press, "We're happy that our daughter is going to be attending Collins. We hope we've raised some issues that will have to be looked at."

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