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Livingston BOE Discusses Graduation Location and Revenue Opportunities

Jeremiah Lim

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 • 6:34am

LIVINGSTON, NJ - The Livingston Board of Education announced at its meeting on Monday that graduation ceremonies for Livingston High School’s Class of 2014 will take place at the high school instead of at Richard J. Codey Arena at South Mountain in West Orange.

Parking concerns and the inability of Codey Arena management to fulfill guarantees set forth in the venue’s contract with Livingston High School led to the move, according to Livingston High School principal Mark Stern.

The ceremony will take place on June 20 at 3:30 p.m. at the football field, weather permitting. In the case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held inside the Fitness and Wellness Center.

In making the decision to change venues, preserving the previously announced time and date was a critical factor, according to Stern.

“When talking to PTAs and HSAs, the one common question they kept asking us was ‘Is it still at 3:30?’” he said. “If people have grandparents, aunts and uncles coming in, we want to give them as much advance notice [of the exact time] as possible.”

The 3:30 p.m. timetable was confirmed when the district signed a contract with the Arena last year. In a planning conference call on Friday, Arena administrators requested changing the start time to 5 p.m., according to Stern.

“That’s the time that commuters are getting on the road. It just wouldn’t work,” he said.

Parking logistics also presented a problem. Other events taking place at the arena—such as a mud run the next day—would necessitate sharing parking. The possibility of using temporary satellite parking lots near Mayapple Hill and the fields near Cherry Hill Road was discussed. Stern pointed out that inclement weather would make field parking a difficult proposition.

“[Arena administrators] were very upfront and apologetic about selling us on things they were not able to fully deliver,” Superintendent John Alfieri said. “It was not worth it to fight over this decision for a period of months. We decided to pull out.”

The decision to hold the ceremony at the Arena this year came after unpredictable weather hampered the advanced planning of last year’s graduation ceremony. Still, Stern indicated that the decision to revert to the high school was ultimately welcome, despite any potential weather headaches.

“It’s gorgeous when we do it here. It’s just really beautiful when we do it outside with the [Fitness and Wellness] Center in the background,” Stern said. “I look forward to having graduation at the high school for the foreseeable future.”

If the ceremony is held on the football field, each student will receive seven guest passes. In the event of ceremonies being held inside the Fitness and Wellness Center, each student will receive two guest passes. Additional family members will be able to view the ceremonies on LTV, which will be broadcast in the LHS auditorium and cafeteria. (The plan for the ceremonies at Codey Arena called for each student to receive five guest passes).

Revenue Discussion

Coming on the heels of budget discussions, Business Administrator Steven Robinson presented a breakdown of district revenue for the upcoming school year, at Board request. The biggest bellwether of the budget was overwhelmingly revenue raised from revenue taxes. Robinson estimated that roughly 93 percent of the district’s revenue was from taxes. Five percent was derived from state aid and various grants.

The remaining revenue came from a hodgepodge of sources, according to Robinson. The biggest revenue generator of that remainder groups is the renting of one of the district’s most important assets, its buildings and facilities, to various organizations.

The district uses a tier system to delineate which groups are given priority to rent or which groups are charged rental fees. Organizations directly related to the schools, such as the BOE, are given first priority. Indirectly related organizations, such as PTAs or HSAs, reside in the second tier. The Livingston municipal government, other governmental agencies and other township governments, and social and charitable organizations follow. For-profit organizations rank in the lowest tier.

“I’ve had a lot of requests for renting out our buildings,” Robinson said. “It would be nice if we could just grab the revenue from whomever, but we have to make sure it’s appropriate to be held in our schools.”

Board member Arthur Altman proposed several ideas for using the district’s buildings to grow revenue.

“We could rent out the buildings to community groups or religious groups to do fundraising. We have kitchens—why not cooking classes? Or to small catering businesses that don’t have their own kitchens. We could have private SAT tutoring in the classrooms, performing arts groups in the auditoriums. We could rent out the TV studios so companies can shoot commercials.”

He also suggested that industries that often feature continuing education classes or professional seminars, such as accountants or realtors, could also make use of the space.

Board member David Jasin noted that while Livingston’s facilities are generally in fine condition, heavy repeated use could degrade the quality of those assets over time.

“When things are used all the time, there’s a wear-and-tear effect,” he said. “We still want these buildings and facilities to be in pristine condition for our children. That’s their primary function: to contribute to the education of our children.”

Board member Leslie Winograd also noted that she has received some complaints from parents about the classroom usage of renters.

“I’ve heard complaints about people moving around and messing with the children’s desks at the elementary schools,” she said. It’s little things, but they add up.”

The implementation of advertisements on the school website was also broached. Robinson said that the district has been and is open to receiving bids for advertisements. He also noted that the Board has discussed such an option in the past.

“It’s my recollection that we were working with this company and we found that with what they were proposing, they would make money but we wouldn’t,” Winograd said. “We also don’t want to have a situation where we’re deterring people from visiting the website. People are already bombarded by ads on the internet; we don’t want to drive them away when they’re just trying to find out their kid’s grades.”

Another concern was the lack of a supervisory position to oversee the implementation and maintenance of fundraising efforts. Multiple board members agreed that trying to generate revenue would not be an appropriate use of the Superintendent’s (or other educational administrators’) time and effort.

“We have to weigh any potential revenues we could create against what it would cost to create those opportunities in the first place,” Winograd said. “Do we really want to create another salaried position for something that might not pan out?”

Altman suggested creating a position for economic development with a low base salary with an incentive-driven contract that would allow for commissions based on performance and revenue growth.

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