LIVINGSTON, NJ – The Livingston Public Schools’ (LPS) carefully constructed 2018-2019 budget, adopted on Monday with a 1.76 percent tax increase over last year, covers every aspect of the educational experience that the township offers from curriculum and instruction to student services, technology, athletics, staffing, buildings and grounds and more.

Following months of Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meetings in which the budget was featured both on the agendas and in presentations where public comment was invited, the LBOE approved the budget at $105,790,062 (which equals the tax levy on the general fund).

“We believe that this budget captures cost savings wherever possible, that it’s a fair tax levy that invests in our students and the schools and that it meets state and federal requirements,” said Superintendent of Schools Christina Steffner.

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LPS Business Administrator Steve Robinson shared details of the 2017-2018 budget for comparison purposes with those in attendance at this week’s LBOE meeting. Seventy-three percent of the 2017-2018 budget, which was fixed at $121,771,613, went directly to the students by way of allocations made to instruction and support services (including special education), according to Robinson. The remaining items covered by that budget included operations, transportation, debt service, capital outlay, administration and business support services. 

“Taxpayers pay almost all the burden of the school budget,” said Robinson. “On the average, about 37 percent comes from state aid, but Livingston receives only about 3.6 percent. We used to be one of the highest-spending districts in the state, but now we’re below average.”

However, the tax impact for the budget based on the average assessed home of $617,445, amounts to approximately $160 per household, according to Robinson.

Staff salaries and additional staff constitute the bulk of the LPS budget, followed by labor negotiations, the rising cost of health insurance benefits and the increasing prices of instructional supplies.   

According to Robinson, the schools carefully review how to contain costs when arriving at the annual budget. The increase in health insurance costs, for example, is largely offset by the $4.6 million in health insurance contributions made by those the insurance covers. 

Some other ways in which the district helps to contain costs include expanding special education programs inside the district, attracting tuition revenue generated by a limited number of out-of-district students, incorporating energy-cost-reducing solar panels, sharing services with the township, providing in-house transportation services and more.

Marybeth Kopacz and Natalie Topylko, directors of curriculum and instruction, walked attendees through improvements made in the four key areas of students, staff, facilities and environment and community.  

“The curriculum and instruction must be rigorous, must meet state standards and must prepare students to be college and career ready,” said Kopacz, who named these concepts as parameters for their 2018-2019 plans.

“The strategic five-year curriculum and instruction plan and the budget are not items we worked on in isolation,” said Topylko. “The budget has been crafted to align with the strategic plan and gives legs to it that allow it to be operationalized.”

The curriculum plan weaves the 21st-century educational skills of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication and problem solving into all educational disciplines. STEM/STEAM, technology and interdisciplinary courses continue to take center stage in the curriculum plan. 

Additionally, the balance between traditional instruction and social-emotional learning to keep students healthy—both mentally and physically—is receiving added attention, with instruction around the topic of mindfulness being given to students, educators and administrators alike.

Assistant Superintendent Lisa Capone-Steiger offered highlights for the area of student services.

“There is a tremendous effort to focus on the social-emotional learning standards through an integrated approach in health, physical education and school counseling,” she said. “This will be incorporated into all of the curriculum documents as it is a requirement of the New Jersey Department of Education.”

Next year, Hillside Elementary School will be home to a new Language Learning Disability program to ensure that students moving from Pre-K to elementary school can experience education in their home school as much as possible.

“We hope the budget will continue to help us provide quality special services from Kindergarten all the way through age 21,” said Capone-Steiger, referencing a program successfully launched in 2017-18 designed to help struggling 18-to-21 year olds get the coaching they need to secure gainful employment

Infrastructure upgrades for the 1:1 computer initiative at Mount Pleasant Middle School, refreshes of elementary school Chromebooks and enhancements to Livingston High School’s Engineering/CAD lab are all on the list of technology improvements on tap for next year.

The budget will also continue to support more than 28 varsity sports. In addition, the Livingston High School turf football field will also be receiving a facelift in the next school year.

“School safety is something near and dear to our hearts and we do as much as we can to make sure that our schools are safe for students and staff,” said Steffner, who was a panelist at last week's school safety and security forum held at Heritage Middle School. 

In fact, budget dollars have been allocated to improve safety measures in all buildings that bring the latest techniques and technology into play. 

In addition to covering all of the aforementioned areas, LPS remains committed to dedicating budget to non-state-funded initiatives that help keep the LPS distinctive. The diverse initiatives that fall into this category include: maintaining a nurse in every building; having assistant principals, reading and media specialists and school guidance counselors on staff; teaching keyboarding in grades 2-5; offering full-day kindergarten programs; offering instrumental music and elementary world language instruction; and providing gifted and talented art and music education.

For questions regarding the budget, contact LPS at budgetquestions@livingston.org.

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