LIVINGSTON, NJ — While updating the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) on district finances during Monday’s board meeting, Business Administrator Steve Robinson confirmed that Livingston Public Schools (LPS) intends to apply for the $100,204 grant that recently became available through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF).

The ESSERF was established as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which the president signed into effect in March, in order to assist school districts in areas impacted by the closure of schools.

Robinson explained that LPS is entitled to keep $79,561 to be utilized for one of 12 purposes that have been deemed appropriate and will be required to distribute the remaining $20,642 to non-public schools located within the municipality.

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If acquired by LPS, these funds would be used for cleaning supplies and technological needs, according to Robinson.

He also noted that the state has not confirmed whether the LPS will still receive the aid figures proposed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The board recently adopted its 2020-2021 school budget with the expectation that LPS would receive $4,612,412 in state aid, which represents an increase of $475,247 (or 11.49 percent) over the previous year. State aid accounts for 5 percent of the overall budget for the district.

LPS Superintendent Dr. Matthew Block commented that although there has been no formal word from Trenton at this point, the total state aid being distributed to New Jersey districts will not be confirmed until the state finalizes its budget over the summer.

He also noted that the potential decrease in state aid “will not be offset by the CARES money.”

Continuing his finance report, Robinson also announced that LPS will issue refunds within 30-to-60 days for a pro-rated amount for subscription busing. Families that purchased round-trip busing will receive a $297 refund, and those that purchased a one-way ride will receive $148.50.

Other transportation costs being pro-rated include a reimbursement for aid in lieu of transportation for non-public school students. According to Robinson, the district was previously paying $1,000 for the school year, or $500 per semester.

Parents and guardians will receive a $133.70 rather than the typical $500 for the spring semester, as the district will withhold $366.30 due to mandated school closures.

In other news, Block provided an update on end-of-the-year celebrations, plans for students and staff to retrieve personal items from the buildings and guidance from the state on procedures. 

He noted that two upcoming events—the National Honor Society Induction and the Science Research Symposium—will be held virtually on May 21 and May 27, respectfully.

Plans are also being drafted for opening in September pending specific guidance from the state, according to Block. He stated that the LPS administration currently is formulating different scenarios that include continued remote learning, social distancing within the buildings and a hybrid of both. 

The district intends to distribute a survey to all stakeholders in order to solicit input on all possibilities.

The superintendent immediately agreed to a suggestion from LBOE member Seth Cohen to form focus groups made up of the different stakeholders that would meet virtually to discuss the reopening of school.

LBOE President Ronnie Konner also recommended including students in the discussion, stating that students would be able to “provide valuable insights regarding remote learning.”

Later in the meeting, Konner also asked about the possibility of providing more online activities for the LPS Summer Academy as well as additional professional development for remote learning for staff members during the summer.

Cohen suggested that the district look into partnering with the township to explore summer activities for the children, especially since many summer camps are planning to remain closed this year.

Additionally, Block commented on the effectiveness of remote instruction and the difficulty of providing differentiated instruction online. He said that feedback has been “divergent,” adding that some students are completing their work quickly and feel they need to be challenged further while other students are feeling pressured and distracted while doing work from home.

“We need to deal with both ends of that, but we’re working on it,” said Block.

In other news, Block addressed two personnel items on the regular agenda for Monday’s board meeting, including appointment of new Livingston High School Assistant Principal Michael Kays—who Block said is “an experienced high school teacher and has coached several sports”—and Scott Patteson as a theatre arts teacher, which is a new position.

The board also approved the job description for the “Director of Technology and Innovation,” explaining that this new position will replace one with a similar description.

The current “Director of Instruction and Technology” is set to retire, presenting an opportunity for the district to create a new job tile and description that allows for expanded and enhanced focus on addressing remote learning and infrastructure. 

The next LBOE meeting will be held virtually on June 1.