Deborah Cornavaca, deputy chief of staff of outreach for Gov. Phil Murphy, spoke at the legislative committee meeting.
Deborah Cornavaca, deputy chief of staff of outreach for Gov. Phil Murphy, spoke at the legislative committee meeting.

On Sept. 18, Deborah Cornavaca, Gov. Murphy’s deputy chief of staff for outreach joined the NJSBA Legislative Committee and spoke about a variety of topics of interest to school board members.

Cornavaca brought words of appreciation from the governor for board members’ service and leadership during the pandemic. The impact of Hurricane Ida was the first topic she addressed. In those counties designated for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance, school districts and their families can go to the website for assistance or contact their local or county Office of Emergency Management Office.  For districts whose facilities were constructed by the Schools Development Authority, they should reach out to the SDA for further information on emergent repairs.

The bus driver shortage also was addressed. Cornavaca said that the governor was exploring various ways to build more flexibility into the licensing process, including ensuring that those who are waiting to receive their school bus endorsements be prioritized by the Motor Vehicle Commission.  She also encouraged districts to forward information about the severity of the shortage to the governor’s office.

She spoke to committee members about the American Rescue Plan Act money received by New Jersey, which totals approximately $6 billion overall. Of that, $600 million has been allocated for S-3434, the bill that was signed into law which permits special education students who would “age out” during the pandemic to receive an additional year of services.  In addition, $200 million for current N.J. Schools Development Authority (SDA) projects, and another $75 million for emergent projects for SDA has been allocated. Gov. Murphy has also allocated a portion of the federal American Rescue Plan funds to upgrade HVAC systems in school districts. Much of the money has not been allotted yet as New Jersey is waiting to see what occurs with the federal infrastructure legislation currently under consideration.

Finally, COVID-19 was addressed. Cornavaca said that third doses are being given for immunosuppressed individuals and that boosters are likely to be approved for those age 65 and over. She also stressed the importance of vaccination for 12-18 year-olds, and asks districts to encourage the vaccination of students. She suggested that one of the ways to do this would be to work with the local or state health department to enable schools to be vaccination and testing sites. New Jersey hopes to make vaccination available to those ages 5-11 by the end of October. She also stressed the importance and effectiveness of masks in helping to curb the spread of the virus.

Following Cornavaca’s presentation, the committee received updates from the NJSBA governmental relations team. The committee also began discussion on the development of the Association’s Advocacy Agenda, which must be adopted every two years. The next Legislative Committee meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 11.