Summit School Officials Present $66 Million Proposed Budget to Board of School Estimate Calling for 1.88 Percent Tax Rise or $31.89 Per Year on Average Home
Friday, March 8, 2013 • 7:02am
SUMMIT, NJ--A proposed $65,913,363 budget for the 2013-2014 school year was presented by city school officials on Thursday to the Summit Board of School Estimate. The spending plan includes $60,517,972 to be raised by local property taxes or an increase of 1.88 percent over the 2012-2013 budget. This amounts to $31.89 per year on the average Summit home, assessed at $410,000.
Because Summit is a Type I school district, with its board of education members appointed by the mayor, its budget is subject to approval by the school estimate board, which includes the mayor, two members of the Summit Common Council and two members of the board of education. This year the members are Mayor Ellen Dickson, who serves as the presiding officer, council finance chairman Dave Bomgaars, Councilman Robert Rubino, board of education president George Lucaci and board operations chairman Edgar Mokuvos.
School Business Administrator Louis Pepe reported on Thursday that the budget already has been submitted to the Union County executive superintendent of schools who must, under state law, review the spending plan. He said he expected the county official to approve the budget because it is $71,197 or .12 percent under the state “cap” limit on school budget increases.
Pepe added because this year’s budget is again “under cap”, as it has been for the past few years, the school district has a banked “cap” of $4.1 million that it could use in case an unexpected emergency arose and the district had to exceed the cap.
The business administrator noted the proposed budget includes $1.8 million that will be taken from the capital reserve to repair roofs at district elementary schools, increase security at the Washington and Franklin Schools and pay for architectural services associated with these items.
In outlining the district’s budgetary history, Pepe pointed out that in 2008, the year both he and superintendent of schools Nathan Parker joined the district staff the capital reserves were practically non-existent, with only about $2,000 reserved in the budget. The district has continued to increase that amount of the years through careful savings, planned expenditures and sound fiscal management, he said.
He noted in the past five years savings have totaled $6.5 million, with one of the largest reductions coming from changing to a food service vendor that not only meets its contractual obligations, but also provides profits that district can use to enhance student dining facilities. This has saved the district $415,000 in five years, the administrator said.
Other large areas of savings include $946,367 in pesonnel reductions, $3,862,200 in employee health benefit contributions, $484,514 in savings by buying supplies through Ed-Data, a multi-district consortium, and $268,583 in special education tuition.
Parker noted the district has seen significant savings in special education by conducting more classes within the district, thus saving on transportation costs, and taking in special needs students from other districts, for whom Summit charges tuition.
The superintendent noted that for the 2013-2014 year the board has proposed adding a course for autistic students in the middle school to already-existing classes in pre-kindergarten to fifth grade. This will mean the addition of a full-time special education teacher, a 0.5 equivalent behaviorist, a 0.5 equivalent speech specialist and three full-time aides.
He added that the district will benefit by keeping the students within the district beyond the time they would have “aged out” of autism classes in the past, there will be savings in transportation and the students will have training in life skills in local stores and other organizations in familiar surroundings.
Overall, in the proposed budget, Pepe said, special education would decrease by $119,851 or 14.7 percent, while the overall cost of tuition the district pays to send its special education students to other school districts would increase by $173,547 or 7.4 percent.
The business administrator explained that increase was due to the fact that the students who Summit sends to other communities have very serious problems which cannot be handled in the city.
The schools superintendent, in response to a question from Dickson, noted that, even though the middle school has a number of capacity issues teachers in the school used some “creative” reallocation of space to enable the district to find three classrooms for the new course of study.
Parker noted many items in the proposed budget were aimed at dealing with increases in enrollment at Summit High School, which has gone from 3,170 students in 2001 to a projected 4,154 students in 2013.
Proposed staffing increases to meet the rises in enrollment include full-time English, mathematics and physics teachers, a 0.5 equivalent biology teachers, 0.4 equivalent social studies, Latin, Spanish and Mandarin teachers and a 0.2 equivalent Spanish teacher.
The school officials also noted that the participation rate in high school athletics has increased by 37 percent while the school population has grown by 25 percent. To help deal with this growth the budget proposes addition of a part-time assistant to the athletic director and a part-time physical education and health teacher.
Parker said the physical education and health teaching position could be eliminated if the board felt it needed to make further budget reductions.
The school district also will add a full-time guidance counselor specializing in counseling students for college admission. The superintendent noted this position was being funded through a grant from the Summit Education Foundation.
Responding to a question from Bomgaars, Parker noted that none of the costs of the proposed fullday kindergarten program were included in the 2013-2014 budget because that program would not begin until at least the 2015-2016 school year.
On another matter, Pepe said the district has received all of the grant money reimbursement for capital projects for which it has applied and is entitled to under the state RODs or Regular Operating Districts Program--or about 48 percent reimbursement of the costs involved.
He added the district expects to receive the full reimbursement to which it is entitled under the first three phases of RODs, and the state should have enough grant money available for an additional phase of the program.
Responding to a report by Councilman Thomas Getzendanner that some of his constituents feel that students who are not residents of the city are graduating from Summit High School without paying the required tuition, Parker noted the district is constantly vigilant about non-resident students and fully investigates any report of a student or parents not paying what is due to the district.
Getzendanner complimented the school officials for employment of a residency secretary who checks student credentials when entering kindergarten, upon matriculating middle school and when entering high school so no illegal students are in the city schools.
The councilman also said the school district should continue to look for additional non-tax revenue and fees in case the state should completely discontinue aid, as it did several years ago. He added since the state only requires education from the first to 12th grades Summit should charge tuition for pre-kindergarten and kindergarden students, possibly offering scholarships to underprivileged children.
He also called for expansion of the sale of naming rights on fields and other school facilities and participation with the city in approximation of capital projects six years in the future.
On another matter, the First Ward representative said the school district should respect the property rights of residents near the high school by rationing driving privileges at the high school through an annual sticker fee, saying only those who live a mile or more from school would be permitted to drive to school or creating more on-campus parking for students.
Dickson announced the board of school estimate will hold another meeting on Monday, March 25, at 6 p.m. at which time it is scheduled to vote on the proposed 2013-2014 school budget.