Livingston Public Schools Works to Determine Optimal Board Size | #Education

LIVINGSTON, NJ —The Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) will continue its consideration of adding members after hearing a presentation from Charlene Peterson, the LBOE’s representative from the New Jersey School Board Association (NJSBA), about the optimal board size based on school population and the process for transitioning to a seven-or nine-member board.

At the conclusion of last week’s discussion, LBOE President Samantha Messer explained that member Seth Cohen is in the midst of drafting a survey to be distributed to all stakeholders in order to garner sufficient input by mid-summer. The LBOE will then utilize survey responses to determine whether to adopt a resolution authorizing the topic to be posed as a ballot question in the November 2021 election.

Messer noted that the administration invited Peterson to last week’s LBOE meeting “in hopes that [she] could help [the board] understand both the pros and the cons of changing the board size.”

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According to Peterson, Livingston Public Schools (LPS) is among the 93 districts (or 16%) out of 580 in New Jersey that have a five-member board of education, whereas 68% of boards in New Jersey have nine members and 13% have seven. Along with West Orange and Ridgewood, the LBOE is one of only three five-member boards in districts with more than 5,000 students. In Essex County overall, the LBOE is one of nine five-member boards out of 21 total boards of education.

Concerns among board members included maintaining transparency with a larger board when committee work needs to be conducted in a closed setting, ensuring that the board represents the diverse demographic of the Livingston community and the avoiding the instability that may occur in the coming years as a result of nearly doubling the number of board members. 

In order to achieve diversity on the LBOE, Peterson stated that the community would need to actively encourage diverse residents to run for an open seat on the board of education during an election year regardless of the number of members.

Regarding the board’s stability, Peterson said that if the five LBOE members feel that they are currently serving as a “functioning team with common goals and a common vision,” they would need to “recognize that [they] may lose that” if they choose to add members.

“At one point, if you went to nine members, you would be adding a new majority,” said Peterson, who also explained the impact that the increase to a seven-or nine-member board would have on elections over the next few years, which is broken down in the photos above.

Also seen in the photos above is a list of pros and cons of a five-member board versus a seven-or nine-member board.

Messer expressed gratitude toward Peterson for her input, stating that the board would likely be contacting her again once the questionnaire is complete and a timeline is established to resume the conversation.

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