Summit Swears in Two Police Officers; Council Discusses Economics of Full-day Kindergarten, Parking Lot Access Cutoff Draws Fire
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 • 6:49am
SUMMIT, NJ—Previous law enforcement experience and higher education backgrounds seem to be a hallmark of the Summit Police Department of late.
At Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Summit Common Council Mayor Ellen Dickson swore in new police officers Henry E. Ludena and Matthew L. Tarentino.
Ludena is a native of Clifton. He previously served with the William Paterson University Police Department and is pursuing a master’s degree.
Somerville native Tarentino has a degree from Rutgers University, where he previously was involved in law enforcement for the university.
In addition to increasing the strength of the city’s law enforcement arm, the council on Tuesday discussed a proposal being floated by the city’s board of education to institute full-day kindergarten in the Summit schools.
Councilman Thomas Getzendanner, a former member of the Summit Board of School Estimate and a long-time liaison between the governing body and the school board, said the education body is pursuing what could be “a major change with huge budget implications.”
Citing figures which, he said, the board released in 2010 when it began studying different alternatives to the current half-day kindergarten setup, Getzendanner noted a full-day system could result in $15 million more in capital outlay and $1 million more per year in operating expenses.
When the full-day proposal first surfaced two years ago, he added, the proposal was for parents taking advantage of the system to pay a tuition of about $7,500 per year.
The councilman said currently 75 percent of parents whose children attend the Summit half-day kindergarten program pay for “wrap around” programs provided by third parties to make up the remainder of the daily kindergarten experience for their children.
He added that, whereas achievement gaps previously were thought to be measured due to ethnic background, the currently trend seems to be attributed to economic factors.
Therefore, he concluded the school board is reluctant to add to economic burdens by charging tuition for a full-day program.
Getzendanner asked why the program could not be funded through tuition with some type of scholarship or sliding scale fee structure made available to economically disadvantaged families.
He said if Summit were to institute a free full-day program this could many students from parochial or other non-public schools into the city’s program, thus “throwing out” many of the demographic projections of future student population growth recently made by professionals endorsed by Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker.
Councilwoman Nuris Portuondo said, however, that all Summit residents, whether they had students in the city’s schools or not, should be proud of Summit’s high-quality schools and glad to support them.
She objected to what she saw as an attempt by Getzendanner to pit one economic group in the city against another.
Council President Richard Madden replied that the school board had to balance the need to close the achievement gap against the costs of the proposed program.
He said while current low interest rates make borrowing to finance part of the program attractive the long-range costs also had to be considered.
The school body’s education committee has given its preliminary endorsement to the full-day proposal, and the board will discuss the proposal at its meeting at 7:30 pm Thursday in the Summit High School Library.
On another matter, a few downtown merchants complained to the council that re-configuration of Parking Lot No.1 had blocked the rear entrances to their stores, potentially causing them to lose a number of customers.
Peter Rooney of Walk-Well Shoes said the reconfiguration cut off the rear entrance to his store that previously was used by a number of his elderly and disabled customers who depend on the store for specialized footware for a number of medical conditions.
While Rooney said he understood some of the city’s safety concerns about possible code violations, he noted many of his senior citizen patrons could not walk all the way around to Springfield Avenue to get into his store and might attempt to climb over Belgian block walls between the parking lot and his store, thus creating another safety hazard.
Lou and Joe Del Rosso of Liss Pharmacy had similar concerns.
The merchants also believed blocked off the rear entrances of their stores would cause customers to shop out-of-town rather than in Summit.
City Administrator Chris Cotter replied there were some concerns about pedestrians in the parking lot conflicting with automobile traffic and with trucks making deliveries to the stores.
Cotter added, however, that he thought there were ways the concerns of the merchants and the city’s concerns for safety both could be addressed.
Dickson and Councilman Dave Bomgaars both suggested that studies done by the planning board prior to reconfiguration of the parking lots be consulted to see if a solution could be found.
Cotter also said he would be meeting Monday with representatives of the police department, the fire department and the city’s parking agency in an effort to determine the best solution.
On another safety matter, the administrator announced that the New Providence Borough Council on Monday had approved the borough’s continued cooperation in planning for a joint emergency services dispatch center to be located in the borough.
Summit also would be an initial partner in the joint system along with the Millburn Fire Department.
Berkeley Heights, an original partner in the proposed center, decided earlier this year not to join the combined setup.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Cotter said a shared services agreement probably would be presented to each of the governing bodies involved in the center sometime in October.
On another matter, Bomgaars, who chairs the council finance committee, reported the city had answer 98 percent of questions on the New Jersey Best Practices Form for municipal financial matters with “yes”, “prospective” or “not applicable.”
Since the form is used in part to determine state aid he said this again puts Summit in good stead.
Cotter noted a variety of different questions are asked every year and if a municipality’s answers fall in the above categories for 40 or 50 questions the form will have no effect on the community’s state aid.
In reality, he added, only about 5 percent or about $150,000 in aid in Summit’s case is affected.
Getzendanner, while agreeing with most of the assessments, said the city’s Open Line budget communication still was not up to snuff, Summit was not projecting budget planning far enough into the future and the city did not account as it should for indirect liabilities such as those from the Union County resource recovery facility or the Joint Meeting Sewerage Authority.
Bomgaars replied Summit’s Open Line exceeded state standards and the city projected its budget planning six years into the future.
He said while Getzendanner had many positive ideas he should not try to project his feelings on certain budgetary matters onto questions mandated by the state that the city answered sufficiently.
Getzendanner also said that the city should make more of an effort to get city employees into designing their own “cafeteria-style” benefit plans with upper management leading the way by choosing the plans first.
Cotter replied the city has joined the state health plan to save premium dollars and also held an open house in October to encourage more employees to take advantage of the cafeteria plans.