Cranford Superintendent: It Was Right to Close Schools

By JENNIFER GLACKIN
For The Leader/Times

CRANFORD — During Monday’s Cranford Board of Education (BOE) meeting, Superintendent Scott Rubin, Ed.D., said the district “made the right decision” about closing schools for the two weeks following Thanksgiving as Covid-19 cases rose and acknowledged there were many questions and concerns regarding December 14’s hybrid reopening. “The district values and believes in in-person education,” said Dr. Rubin. “We will continue to fight for every single day to provide an opportunity for an in-person education as long as it’s safe to do so,” he continued.

The township’s health department supported the decision, said Dr. Rubin, as there are many protocols and procedures in place and there have been no in-school transmissions thus far.
Dr. Rubin also discussed the impact remote learning may have on inclement weather days (also called “snow days”), including the predicted snowstorm for Wednesday and today. “The more impactful the storm, the greater the chance the district will call for a snow day,” he said, later indicating that the prediction for today would most likely be called a “snow day” but that a final decision would be made later in the week.

A parent questioned Dr. Rubin on the district’s plan to deal with learning loss resulting from the pandemic, particularly regarding Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Dr. Rubin said teachers and administrators currently are looking at ways to adjust the schedule and possibly increase academic time while still remaining safe. While the “gaps are on us,” said Dr. Rubin, districts across the state and the country are all dealing with the same potential for learning loss and Cranford has been able to schedule more class time than other districts. As for the AP exams, Dr. Rubin said that the AP-level college board will need to look at its requirements as well.

Board Vice-President Lisa Carbone updated the board on township PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs that could impact the school system. The township has reached an agreement with Hartz Mountain Industries about the property at 750 Walnut Avenue. Ms. Carbone said that 15 acres will be used as a warehouse, which will pay taxes “which will increase our commercial ratables,” and the other 15 acres will be 250 residential units, 38 of those affordable housing, and will be granted a PILOT. As of now there are no decisions made as to what portion of the PILOT will be paid to the school district. The district can voice its opinions to the township committee and advocate for the students but is not a part of negotiations between the township and developer, said Ms. Carbone.

Another PILOT property in town, Birchwood, is “substantially complete” and will now be held accountable for PILOT funds, said Ms. Carbone. The negotiated rate for the school district is 70 percent of the annual service charge for the first two years and 55 percent for years three to five.

Multiple board members, including Ms. Carbone, voiced their concerns about the PILOTs. Board member William Hulse said the BOE deserves a “seat at the table.” He suggested getting a demographer to study the possible impact of the 250 units on Hillside Avenue School, Livingston Avenue School and Walnut Avenue School.

The township committee keeps the BOE informed, said Board President Kurt Petschow, Jr. “We will advocate and do the best that we can for our kids and the staff,” he said.

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