LIVINGSTON, NJ — After approving the preliminary school budget in March and gathering public input during a special meeting held last week, the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) addressed recommended changes to the budget on Monday and developed a four-tier plan to prepare for any unforeseen directives from the state.
Although the LBOE is required by law to vote on its final school budget for the next fiscal year by May 7, the board noted that a state task force will issue a report on May 22 that could have a direct impact on the state aid that had previously been proposed for New Jersey school districts.
Already having the foresight to await more concrete directive from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) before adopting a final budget, the district had previously rescheduled its final budget hearing from April 27 to May 7 in hopes that the state would clarify certain protocols by then. With the added challenge of needing to adopt the budget prior to the state's May 22 report, however, Livingston Superintendent Dr. Matthew Block said the district needs to plan ahead once again by assessing all possible outcomes and adjusting the budget accordingly.
“As of right now, the parameters and process has not changed, and there is a lack of knowledge of what the state may do regarding aid distribution,” said Superintendent Dr. Matthew Block. “The best thing we can do is to fortify our position and plan ahead.”
In order to do so, the administration presented several recommendations during Monday’s meeting and plans to continue the discussion until a final budget can be solidified.
Stating that the district needs to “show good faith to [Livingston’s] taxpayers,” Business Administrator Steven Robinson recommended reducing the preliminary budget by $575,000 by deferring the parking lot expansion at Hillside Elementary School as well as the purchase of new strength-training equipment for the athletic facility at Livingston High School (LHS).
He also recommended creating a new budgetary line item entitled “Crisis Management,” which would establish a fund of $1 million. According to Robinson, the money to establish the fund would be diverted from planned capital improvement projects, district-wide travel and workshops.
Robinson’s third suggestion was to maximize the district’s emergency reserve. Noting that state statute allows for a maximum of $1 million to be allocated for an emergency reserve, Robinson explained that Livingston Public Schools currently has $323,335 in its emergency reserve fund and recommended transferring another $676,665 into the reserve. The additional funds would be generated from savings within the current school budget from a reduction of operating expenses based upon the buildings not being open, he said.
In the event that there is a reduction of expected revenues that exceed the “Emergency Reserve” and the “Crisis Management” funds are exhausted, Robinson recommended monitoring “certain other aspects of the budget, which will be utilized in the event” other funds are needed. He did not define what other aspects of the budget would be considered.
Block reiterated that this is an ongoing discussion and that the district hopes never to resort to Robinson’s final suggestion.
During his superintendent’s report for the week, Block once again commended teaching staff, students and parents for their efforts over the last month and a half and specifically thanked the administrators and supervisors for “their behind-the-scenes work.”
“[They have] maintained the school community, supported teachers, are working with guidance counselors, finding online curricula materials and communicating remotely,” said Block. “This is all at the same time as completing staff evaluations, preparing for class schedules for next year, conducting staff interviews and, staying connected with parents. Our educators are outstanding, and this has been a true team effort.”
Block added that his favorite part of the job is the one he has been missing the most, which is going into the buildings and interacting with the students and staff. He encouraged the community to stay involved with the district by following the school’s Twitter account, which has served as his “walk through” over the last several weeks.
He also provided the board updates on the status of remote learning and gave examples of school activities that are taking place online.
In addition to echoing Block’s statement about staying connected with other students, student representative Nirav Patel mentioned that many students are spearheading grassroots fundraisers and initiatives to help support local first responders, residents and business owners during the health crisis.
In other news, the board also voted to approve subscription-busing rates for the upcoming school year at $810 for round-trip and $405 one way, which is consistent with the current rate.
Robinson apprised the board that refund checks will be pro-rated and distributed to the parents by July for transportation that was not provided due to the school closures.
The board approved recent bullying and suspension reports as well, which included 11 out-of-school suspensions. Suspensions included two elementary students for possession of weapons, five high school students for substance abuse, two high school students for vandalism and two high school students for fighting.
CLICK HERE to read more about the preliminary budget and comments made during the recent public forum. The next board of education meeting will be held virtually on May 7.