The board of education for the Princeton public schools began its public meeting via Zoom on Tuesday night beginning at about 7:45 p.m. AS of 9 p.m., the meeting is still in progress.
Schools could return to in-person learning earlier than planned
Princeton’s interim superintendent of schools, Barry Galasso, said district officials are working to try to get students back to school in person as part of a hybrid learning model a little earlier than the original plan that would bring them back in the mid October.
“We’re doing a full-court press to get our buildings ready to try to bring kids back earlier than the (planned) Oct. 12 and 19 dates,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can over the next three weeks, and hopefully we will announce an earlier start date.” Galasso said.
Oct. 1 would be the target start date for preschool, kindergarten, first-grade, and special needs students in the district’s elementary schools. Galasso said he couldn’t make any promises about opening earlier though.
Three people who have been working at the middle school this summer have tested positive for COVID-19 this month. One is a staff member, and the other two are on site for the construction project at the school. The middle school opening for staff has been delayed until Friday due to the COVID-19 cases.
Anonymous donor funds internet access, childcare
An anonymous donor has donated $249,000 to the district to support students from lower income families in the district. About 175 families will receive unlimited Comcast internet service for the academic year, funded by the donor. Another 75 students will receive unlimited hotspots.
Some parents of students in the district are struggling to afford childcare. The donor is funding 60 scholarships for YMCA programs, and 30 scholarships at the YWCA.
Building closures and remote learning generate surplus of about $3 million for 2019-20 academic year
The superintendent reported that the school district had a surplus for the 2019-20 academic year of between $2.9 million and $3.1 million. He said the district has authorized $1.2 million in COVID-19 expenses, and he anticipates spending another $200,000 on personal protective equipment, filtration systems, and the painting and restoration of district buildings.
Some school board members feel that because of the pandemic, the surplus should be used to give taxpayers some financial relief. Galasso said the surplus could be used in future years to make up for budget shortfalls in case state aid is reduced. The district’s overall surplus was about $6 million prior to the 2019-20 academic year.
New labor agreement reached with labor union for administrative staff members
The school board has tentatively approved a one-year agreement with the union representing administrative staff members in the district. Administrative staff members will receive a 2.99 percent salary increase for the 2020-2021 academic year. They will have to pay an additional $500 per student in tuition for sending their children to the Princeton Public Schools if they live in other towns, and $5,000 a year in tuition this year for new students.
District computer deliveries delayed
The school board approved spending $2.6 million for computers and tablets in July for remote learning. All students will receive devices, even if they already have their own devices at home. The superintendent said Chromebooks the district ordered are on back order. Tablets have arrived. Apple laptops have not arrived yet and will be shipped to the district next week. Students will use computers they used in the previous academic year until the laptops arrive.
Officials propose starting some school sports before in-person learning begins
Schools in Princeton won’t reopen until some time in October, but district officials want to begin some high school sports programs this month. The superintendent of schools has recommended that the school board approve athletics restarting on a limited basis. Varsity competition would be allowed beginning Sept. 14. Each team would have a head coach and assistant coach, with the exception of the football team, which would have a head coach and three assistant coaches. The superintendent estimated that between 125 and 150 kids would participate in varsity athletics.
Other sports at the high school could begin when schools open in October. The plan does not include sports at the middle school. At that time, the athletics director would make recommendations about other sports, including junior varsity and freshman sports. All school clubs also would be allowed to meet in person for activities if the advisor deems it appropriate. Galasso said students need the social and emotional support they get from athletics. He said if student athletes violate New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association rules, he will shut down the sports programs. The school board is currently accepting public comment on the issue at the meeting. This is a developing story.