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Summit School Board Sees $32 Tax Increase on Average Home for Schools; Current Budget vs. Five-Year Facilities Plan Timelines Outlined; Middle School Program for Autistic Children Approved

Bob Faszczewski

Thursday, February 14, 2013 • 5:15pm

SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Board of Education currently is projecting that the 2013-2014 school budget will show a .4 percent increase for each of the two fiscal years encompassed by the spending plan, according to Edgar Mokuvos, who chairs the school body operations committee.

Mokuvos, in remarks at Wednesday's workshop meeting of the education body, said the projected $500,000 increase in spending would result in a $32 annual rise in property taxes on the average Summit home.

At the workshop session the board only formally approved one item - creation of a middle school autistic program for the 2013-2014 school year.

Celia Colbert, who chairs the board education committee, said the program was being proposed because many students in the Summit schools who have autism “age out” of the instructional program aimed at them when they complete the fifth grade.

She added the new program will require an additional teacher, three aides, a half-time behaviorist and a half-time speech therapist. Decreases in transportation costs due to educating more special education students in the city will help pay for the program, Colbert noted.

Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker said current projections are for a six-student program and there currently are three in-district students eligible for the program. He added the district would seek three out-of-district students to fill the class and the tuition paid by their sending districts also would help pay for the new program.

In another budget-related matter, Summit High School Principal Paul Sears presented the case for the addition of an assistant athletic director and a guidance counselor specializing in college admissions, both at the high school.

Sears said the person who fills the new athletic position will assist athletic director Michael Sandor, who also acts as supervisor of health and physical education, with scheduling of athletic events, maintaining equipment inventories and additional duties that have to do with health and physical education.

The college admissions counselor will specialize in helping Summit High School students prepare to apply for college admissions, provide information to them on various colleges and market the high school's quality education to colleges. The position will be funded through the Summit Education Foundation.

Sears also said a number of new teachers will be needed and several new sections will have to be created in a number of subject areas at the high school to meet the demands of recent and expected continued spikes in enrollment.

On another fiscal topic, School Business Administrator Louis Pepe gave an in-depth presentation on the separate paths that the proposed 2013-2014 school budget and the five-year facilities plan will follow to final approval.

Funding for proposed capital projects costing under $1 million, he said, generally would come through the Fund 12 capital outlay or capital reserve areas of the current  budget, while that for projects costing over $1 million would come through bonding in conjunction with the Fund 30 capital projects fund.

Both “tracks” would require various decisions to be made along the way as to cost factors and community needs, Pepe noted, but final approval would rest with the board of school estimate.

He noted the school board is scheduled to adopt the current budget on Feb. 21, with review by the Union County executive superintendent of schools on March 7 and presentation to the school estimate board on March 25.

The five-year facilities plan is scheduled for presentation to the school board on March 21, with a town hall meeting on the plan currently scheduled for April 10 and presentation to the board of school estimate on May 9.

Both Pepe and Mokuvos, in response to a resident's question at Wednesday's meeting, said they are basing capital planning on the assumption there will not be a fourth phase of the state RODs grants to help fund projects.

Pepe said, however, the school district has received 40 percent reimbursement through existing RODs grants on all projects for which it has applied for funding. He added that the district still has not submitted grant applications for all projects.

On another continuing discussion topic - full-day kindergarten - board president George Lucaci said, contrary to some recent statements, the time is now right to proceed with the full day plan because record low interest rates are not expected to continue and the studies outlining the overwhelming benefits of a fullday program are unlikely to be revised.

Lucaci also disputed reports that the proposed full day program only will provide “more play time” and not significantly address academic instruction time. He noted in mathematics, for example, instruction time under the proposed plan will increase from 50 to 150 minutes per week.

In addition, he said, the full day program is needed to meet increased core curriculum requirements for achievement in kindergarten.

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