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Summit Board of Education Town Hall on Five-Year Capital Plan Draws Wide Range of Opinions on Priorities School Body Should Set in Deciding Among Projects

Bob Faszczewski

Friday, April 19, 2013 • 6:54am

SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Board of Education has proposed a five-year plan encompassing a number of construction projects affecting every one of the city’s schools. At a town hall-type meeting the school body held on Thursday a large number of speakers expressed various shades of support and opposition to various parts of the proposal. A number of additional options also came out of the crowded session.

In addition to initiation of a fullday kindergarten program, to be housed at the Jefferson and Wilson Primary Centers, proposals at the various schools are:

SUMMIT HIGH SCHOOL

  • Boiler replacement
  • Library carpeting
  • paving and sidewalk projects
  • security camera upgrades
  • student locker repairs and replacements

LAWTON C. JOHNSON MIDDLE SCHOOL

  • Auditorium upgrades
  • Science laboratory renovations
  • Brick repointing
  • Paving
  • Miscellaneous building repairs
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and overhang repairs at the main entrance

BRAYTON SCHOOL

  • Addressable fire alarm system
  • Casework in classrooms
  • Sidewalk and paving work
  • Intercom system upgrades
  • Miscellaneous building repairs

FRANKLIN SCHOOL

  • Roof replacement
  • An addition to include classrooms, small group instruction areas, security and an elevator in compliance with the ADA
  • Addressable fire alarm system
  • Sidewalk and paving work
  • Miscellaneous building repairs

JEFFERSON SCHOOL

  • An addition to include classrooms, small group instruction areas and new bathrooms in certain areas
  • Roof replacement
  • Addressable fire alarm system
  • Intercom system renovations
  • Miscellaneous building repairs

LINCOLN HUBBARD SCHOOL

  • Roof replacement
  • Addressable fire alarm system
  • Miscellaneous building repairs

WASHINGTON SCHOOL

  • Security upgrades
  • Roof replacement
  • Addressable fire alarm system
  • Sidewalk and paving work
  • Music room remodeling
  • Miscellaneous building repairs

JEFFERSON PRIMARY CENTER (In addition to fullday kindergarten expansion)

  • Security and site work

The total cost if all programs were completed would be $22,600,000, according to education body estimates, with the tax impact on the average Summit home, assessed at $410,000, amounting to $206.89 based on a 20-year bond with an estimated interest of 3.31 percent.

Board vice president Gloria Ron-Fornes, moderator of the town hall session, noted the final say on the proposed plan would be up to the Summit Board of School Estimate, chaired by Mayor Ellen Dickson, which includes school board president George Lucaci, operations committee chairman Edgar Mokuvos, common council finance chairman Dave Bomgaars and Councilman Robert Rubino.

The board of school estimate vote on the plan is expected to take place on May 9, Ron-Fornes said.

Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker, replying to resident requests for his priority list for the various proposed improvements, listed his priorities in this order: Security and space allocation, fullday kindergarten and replacement of the high school borders.

Parker also said, contrary to many misconceptions in the community, that the cost of fullday kindergarten had not dropped from $10 million to $5 million but had remained constant throughout the planning process. He added there had been no attempt to “camouflage” the cost of fullday kindergarten within the cost projections for Jefferson School. He said state and federal regulations on space requirements had complicated cost calculations.

In addition, according to the superintendent, although initial studies and population projections had indicated that space would be available at Jefferson, the need for more space for small group instruction and other non-traditional classroom areas, and the fact that a small cafeteria was being used for three lunch periods  had changed that projection.  Also, these changes were confirmed by studies done by EI Associates, the board’s architectural consultants.

School Business Administrator Louis Pepe also said safety and security were a top concern in developing the proposals. 

Pepe added the middle school auditorium project involved not only preservation of classical architecture in the school but also dealing with an aging facility. He also noted the age of the school had caused exterior mortar to deteriorate to the point, if not repaired, bricks might fall off the building, endangering those in school there and visitors.

He called the proposed renovations to the middle school science laboratories one of the more exciting aspects of the plans.

As for the suggestion that the elementary schools house kindergarten through fifth grade as they had in the past, the business administrator said extensive redistricting would be needed to accomplish this and it probably would result in a disproportionately large contingent of students in the kindergarten to fifth grade at Jefferson.

In addition, he said, this would denigrate the primary centers concept that many people in the city had worked hard to institute.

During the public portion of the session, Jefferson School PTO Co-President Tracy Luckner read a letter that the PTO had sent to the board in support of the five-year plan.

The letter cited a “myriad of challenges” at Jefferson, including the school’s “unacceptable security system” which allows visitors admitted by the main office near a stairwell to walk anywhere in the school at will, an outdated intercom system that requires the main office to telephone some classrooms because the intercom system does not function correctly in those rooms, a steep slope and sink holes in the rear of the school, a large electrical cabinet located adjacent to a playground, and lack of a girls’ restroom next to the cafeteria, requiring girls to use facilities on the third floor of the school.

Calling the expenditures in the plan “money well spent,” the letter concluded that Summit’s taxpayers and its children both would benefit from sustained safe and healthy school buildings.

Jefferson parent Angela Gannon said she was not asking for a “state-of-the-art facility” just a safe environment where her children could have sanitary restrooms and where she feel they were safe when she dropped them off for school and where they could have a decent place to eat lunch.

Although she realized there were no hidden costs in fullday kindergarten, Gannon said the safety of her three children attending Jefferson was more important.

Michael Vernotico of Blackburn Road, a Democratic Second Ward council candidate, said it was important to separate the landscape business, the city acquatic center entrance and the driveway to Jefferson School.

Architect Michael Wozny replied his firm’s plans included installation of a new access road that would allow a two-way driveway for entering and exiting the pool and a separate driveway for Jefferson.

Although Wozny said his firm had noticed a drainage problem between the school and its ballfield pointed out at Thursday’s meeting by Vernotico, both he and board members confirmed correction of that problem was not in the five-year capital plan.

In response to a question from Rubino, Wozny said his firm could supply the school estimate board with figures comparing the cost of improving the Jefferson cafeteria and security the current vestibule with the cost of a new addition for the school.

Parent Jennifer Rustum said Franklin School had needs that were similar to Jefferson such as more small group instruction space, the removal of art classes from modular trailers and a security system that allows visitors who are buzzed in to have access to the entire building.

Councilman Tom Getzendanner, the father of six children who graduated Summit schools, said he was against “cannabalizing” the needs of the middle and high school for fullday kindergarten. He also said the schools district should not pass up a potential revenue stream it could receive from charging tuition for fullday kindergarten as the board had considered doing in 2010.

This was especially significant, he said, if state aid should be eliminated, as it had been when Gov. Chris Christie first took office.

Getzendanner also said studies of early childhood education programs had shown them to be more effective among more economically underprivileged urban children than for suburban children, adding the city’s private “wraparound” programs should be allowed to do their job.

A Hispanic parent, who translated some of her remarks into Spanish, said she has children in Jefferson School and wants to see the safety of the school improved.

She added, however, that she believed fullday kindergarten was necessary to bridge the achievement gap among the city’s students.

Andrea Stein of West End Avenue said she fully supported the proposed five-year plan and full-day kindergarten in particular. She asked, however, should the five-year plan be adopted, and if the state Report Card indicated less-than-stellar performance in the district in the future, whether there would be room in the budget to address these issues.

Resident Norbert Weldon said, however, that state aid for Abbott districts was about $30,000 per pupil while that for Summit was about $1,000 per pupil, the state did not fund non-mandatory programs, contrary to some Summit school officials’ assertions, their was no movement in Trenton to mandate fullday kindergarten and that Summit High School was potentially facing a “tidal wave” of increased enrollment.

He asked, “Do you think Summit parents are less able to teach their children to count to 20, but more able to teach them chemistry?”

Mokuvos replied 45 states have mandated core curriculum standards that cannot be met without fullday kindergarten. He added even large corporations are endorsing fullday kindergarten, as evidenced by Exxon Mobil advertisements in support of the concept during a recent sports event.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Julie Glazer also said a bipartisan group of state legislators had recently endorsed a 17-member study committee on fullday kindergarten and the bill endorsing the committee was before a legislative education committee.

Although Dickson said reports by the city fire and police departments said the alarms and security systems in city schools were in working order, Pepe noted the alarms in the schools only addressed “zoned” area, whereas the proposed systems could pinpoint specific sites of problems.

He said some of those problems could be addressed within current school budgets, some as early as this summer.

Second Ward Republican council candidate Sandra Lizza said the board should include greater detail instead of just cost figures for each of its proposals. For example, that the high school boilers were 52 years old, and estimate yearly operating costs associated with its proposals.

On one topic, fullday kindergarten, Pepe estimated the operating costs, associated with hiring staff and providing benefits, at about $1 million per year or $70 per average home assessed at $410,000.

At the start of the board’s regular meeting, preceding the town hall session, there was a brief exchange between parents and school officials about the district’s failure to renew the contract of boys’ basketball coach David White.

Board president George Lucaci hesitated to give details of what caused the decision on White, citing concerns about possible future liability. Parent Kevin McCormick called Parker incompetent and a coward and left the meeting saying he had to coach a lacrosse match.

Resident Bob Flanagan said although he would not express himself the way McCormick did, added he could understand McCormick’s frustration because the process of hiring a coach or reconsidering White was dragging out too long.

Kristen Pierotti also said the board policy requiring coaches to be teachers limits the availability of coaches for after-school sports programs.

Mokuvos replied the teaching requirement was state law. He also said he understood the parents’ frustration but the board “had to follow a process.”

Parker did announce that Coach Jim Davidson could not serve on the committee seeking a new coach due to seasonal committment in his own sport and that Assistant Football Coach John Liberato had agreed to serve. He also said someone with a basketball background who had originally agreed to serve decided he could not do so.

The superintendent added that internal and internet searches were being conducted for a coach.

Former Mayor Jordan Glatt offered to moderate the dispute between White and Athletic Director Mike Sandor so a conclusion can be reached.

 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said McCormick's comments were directed at Lucaci. McCormick has since told The Alternative Press that his comments were aimed at Parker, and that Lucaci "has acted with integrity and seems interested in resolving the situation."

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