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Summit Board of Education Approves $65.9 Million 2013-2014 Tentative Budget Resulting in 0.4 Percent Tax Increase or $32 on Average Summit Home; Tab Is Below Cap Limit

By BOB FASZCZEWSKI

SUMMIT, NJ--The Summit school board voted Thursday to submit to the Union County executive superintendent of schools a proposed 2013-2014 budget that would increase taxes for school purposes on the average Summit property, assessed at $410,000, by $32 or 0.4 percent for each of the two tax quarters encompassed by the spending plan.

Board operations chairman Ed Mokuvos explained that, since the school board operates on a fiscal year budget calendar, the proposed budget affects quarters in two separate calendar years.

The overall proposed budget amounts to $65,913,363, according to School Business Administrator Louis Pepe, with the amount to be raised by local taxes totaling $60,517,972.

Pepe added the overall budget increase of 1.8 percent is under the state-mandate that says budgets may be increased annually up to 2 percent. He added the fact that the school board spending will be under the state “cap” limit enables the education body to add to its “cap bank” because it has not reached the limit in a few years. The “bank”, he noted, amounts to a total of $4 million it could use if it felt future expenditures needed to exceed the cap.

After the county executive superintendent reviews the budget it still must be approved by the Summit Board of School Estimate, which includes Mokuvos, board president George Lucaci, Summit Common Council Finance Chairman David Bomgaars, Councilman Robert Rubino and Mayor Ellen Dickson.

The school estimate board is scheduled to meet on Thursday, March 7, at 6pm and again on Monday, March 25, in the city hall council chambers.

On another budget-related matter, the education body voted to withdraw $1,836,120 from its capital reserve to fund a number of projects identified by EI Associates, the board’s contracted architectural firm, to be necessary for health and safety reasons.

The projects include $465,000 for roof repairs or replacements at Washington School, $530,000 for similar work at Franklin School and $446,000 for similar work at Jefferson School. They also include $210,000 for security upgrades at Washington and $65,000 for similar work at Franklin and $120,120 for professional engineering architectural services.

Pepe noted the funds were being allocated from the capital reserve because of uncertainty if the state will set limits on its capital reserve as it did when Chris Christie became governor. That year, he noted, the governor reduced state aid and instructed school boards to use funds in their capital reserve to offset the loss in state aid. 

Pepe and Mokuvos indicated the withdrawal of $1.8 million of the $1.9 million capital reserve fund to specific projects would prepare the school body to keep most of its capital reserve should a similar situation happen again.

The business administrator added taking money for the projects out of the education body’s capital reserve would limit the need for the board to ask the city to bond for capital projects for the schools.

Pepe said the decision on which projects the board actually would spend the reserve would still be subject to spending priorities still to be established by the board.

Some of those priorities may be included in the five-year plan the school body is scheduled to present to the school estimate board later this year, Pepe indicated.

The question of budget priorities also caused residents at Thursday’s meeting to question whether the board should consider spending funds on fullday kindergarten if those funds are needed to meet possible overcrowding situations at the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School and Summit High School and renovations at Franklin to deal with some space issues there.

Resident David Shanker, although congratulating the board on increasing its budget below the cap limit, said he believed it was not advisable, in a world with a limited amount of dollars to spend funds on helping the 300 students who would be affected by fullday kindergarten instead of the 3,000 students in the rest of the system faced with overcrowding.

Norman Weldon of Colt Road said he heard one English teacher in the middle school instructed a total of 150 students and the high school waa being forced into block scheduling due to overcrowding.

Lucaci replied, contrary to some statements, studies have shown that fullday kindergarten would help narrow the achievement gap for students throughout the city, not just among minority students or the economically disadvantaged.

Board education committee chairwoman Celia Colbert added that, whether or not fullday kindergarten was required in New Jersey children in all kindergarten classes would have to meet the more stringent core curriculum standards and fullday kindergarten would allow more time for the school district to help them meet these standards.

Responding to questions about the size of one teacher’s instruction load at the middle school, Kenneth Shulack, the board’s director of human resources said the maximum was about 125 students and this was about the same level as that in the high school and was the average instruction load throughout the state.

High school principal Paul Sears said block scheduling, which allows fewer longer periods about four times a week, allows for more flexible scheduling and a common lunch period which increases teacher interaction with the students outside the classroom.

He also said the class size has been maintained at about the same level throughout the years.

Although Sears said it was difficult to measure maximum class size in the high school because of different programs of study maximum class size varied between 12 and 26 students, with few actual classes equalling those figures.

Board members and school officials did emphasize to the public, however, that fullday kindergarten would be evaluated with other district priorities with public input and consultation with the principals in each building.

In another action at Thursday’s meeting, the school body approved the appointment of Kevin Kostibos as high school head football coach at a salary of $11,364, effective February 22. Kostibos, who also holds a teaching position, replaces long-time coach John Liberato, who decided to retire from his head coaching duties and now serves as an assistant coach and remains a teacher.

In the last of its department head budget presentations, the board heard from Director of Special Services Jane Kachmar-Desonne on the special education budget.

Kachmar-Desonne noted the $11.8 million spending plan encompassed about 18.5 percent of the entire school budget.

She added that $563,284 in costs of tuition for special education students would be paid for from the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA this year.

Departmental expenditures include $6,219,836 for instruction, $2,517,206 for tuition, $1,413,267 for child study teams and $407,003 for transportation, the director noted.

Adding that this year’s budget equals a 2.47 percent increase over last year, she noted the district favors retaining as many students as possible in Summit to over them the legally-required least restrictive environment for education.

She said the enrollment has increased from 3,337 in 2007-2008 to 3,653 in the current year and the district supplements its revenues by bringing in tuition for students from other districts attending classes in Summit. Summit students going outside the district have specialized needs that cannot be met in the city, she said.

Pepe noted the city district has saved about $200,000 in transportation costs over the last few years by educating more special needs children in the city. He added the 18.5 percent budget increase is much less than the 22 percent average in many other districts.

In honor of this year’s 85th anniversary of Franklin School, which hosted Thursday’s meeting, students on the fifth grade “Tech Team,” which is coordinated by school librarian Loreli Stochaj and first grade teacher Amy Chambers presented an i-movie they produced. The students interviewed retired teachers and former students about their memories and experiences at Franklin.

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