Study Shows Summit School Population Fairly Stable, But Board Sees Franklin Overcrowding as Top Priority
Friday, April 20, 2012 • 12:06pm
SUMMIT, NJ—The city’s school population will rise from the current level of 3728 to 4378 by the 2016-2017 school year, according to Ross Haber, the demographer hired by the Summit Board of Education to study the city’s schools and other forces affecting them.
Haber presented his report at Thursday’s school board meeting in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the Summit High School Library.
Although the demographer’s study found that enrollment in the lower grades was stabilizing, it projected the high school would be above capacity for the 2014-2015 school year.
Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker said, however, the district had the capacity to deal with the projected greater enrollment at the high school.
He added the projected increase of 250 more students at the high school might be positive because it could result in more student demand for courses and thus, the allocation of more space to accommodate the larger courses.
Of more immediate concern to those in attendance and in the board, however, was the capacity of Franklin School, at which music and art supplies are carried on carts and moved to classrooms when they are not being used for other courses.
The school board also has said the cart situation may be extended to computer classes at Franklin beginning in September.
On a separate issue, the school’s media center is “out of code” because its shelves do not meet current state standards and there may be some issues with the roof over that section of the building.
Although the architects and Franklin school administrators seem committed to keeping the media center where it is, board member Celia Colbert suggested the school body should look at other locations where the center could be located less expensively.
In dealing with the immediate media center problem, board operations committee chair Ed Mokuvos reported the school architects had projected the upgrade cost at $200,000 before thoroughly studying the space.
After the study, however, they projected the cost would be closer to $400,000, he said.
School Business Administrator Louis Pepe said the board probably could meet the project costs from its capital reserve, but that depends on how final capital expenditures play out at the end of the current budget cycle.
On the overall capacity issue for the school, Haber projected Franklin will need 20 classrooms for each of the next five school years and it only will have 19 classrooms available in those years.
At its workshop meeting on Thursday the board also had to approve about $25,000 in expenditures to deal with removal of a parapet wall at the Brayton Elementary School that was leaning and could have posed a danger.
A portion of those funds will be used for waterproofing in connection with the wall removal project.
On the enrollment projections, although the board has mentioned that shifting of district lines might be considered, it has not made any decisions about that as an option and board members, at Thursday’s meeting, indicated that would be a last resort.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, residents in a number of the elementary districts suggested a wide range of options for dealing with the enrollment projections.
Lincoln-Hubbard School parent, David Shanker, asked that the board also include a study of the safety of children walking on the various school routes, the emotional impact on children of shifting to different schools, the impact of district shifting on property values and whether the role of the Wilson Primary Center should be reevaluated.
Deb McCann of 4 Colt Road suggested that the board consider adding onto Wilson School, because the school property contains more land, rather than putting an addition on Franklin School.
Pepe replied a portion of the Wilson property contains Wilson Park, which belongs to the city. He also said the consolidation of board offices at Wilson already had resulted in the freeing up of more classroom space.
At Franklin, Parker suggested modern technology could make the computer cart situation at the school advantageous because laptops are coming into far greater use and there is less necessity for computer laboratories.
He emphasized, however, that he had not yet received a report on a solution for the computer laboratory question.
Franklin parent Marjorie Fox said, with laptops, the children feel rushed and the batteries often run down before they get to their classes. With computer laboratories, she said, they feel more settled.
On the overall district space concerns, Beth Cohen of Dale Drive said it is a matter of equality. She suggested if the district reused space not currently used as classrooms it could find space in a number of district schools.
Parent Stacy O’Connor said the board should address the immediate issues at Franklin before considering institution of full-day kindergarten or redistricting.
Parker announced Thursday that, as part of the board’s study of how the district would deal with a suggested full-day kindergarten program, a subcommittee had been formed to explore a full-day, free kindergarten in the district.
Board President Michelle Stevenson, replied the board was only in the process of evaluating the Haber report and had not even discussed redistricting or “shifting” of district boundaries.
Parent Mary Coughlin, who said she works with statistics, questioned Haber’s methodology, adding, “is one set of numbers enough to make giant decisions for children?”
Haber replied although there might be some differences in interpretation all demographers in New Jersey use the methodology approved by the state.
Stevenson added one of the purposes of the public board meetings on the report was for board members to challenge the figures.
Another parent, Woody Weldon, said music and art were an important part of a child’s education and should not be neglected. He also suggested locating classroom trailers at Franklin could be a temporary solution.
The board president said the education body needed to listen to the entire community and set priorities, doing its “due diligence” and putting all suggestions through its committee process.
A Jefferson School parent said she was concerned if children were placed into unused school space that class size would increase.
Resident Kristin Lamello wanted to know if there was enough capacity at Jefferson School to absorb the music, art and computer classes at Franklin.
The Haber report said that Jefferson was one of the buildings that would have extra capacity.
Stevenson replied the board just was taking questions that it would answer on the district website and evaluate in making its decisions.
Replying to parents who asked about a population study done about five years ago, Pepe said himself, Parker and most of the board members had not been associated with the district when that study was done.
He said they would have to look up the files from that study before determining what effect, if any, it would have on the current situation.
Another parent said if the district has the space to accommodate students in some of its buildings it should redistrict to best advantage of students, even if it means increasing class size to 24 or 25.
Parker replied any decision on class size would be made in accordance with district regulations.
Board Vice President George Lucaci said, in making any decisions about the report, the board had to consider the entire Summit community and not be guided solely by those in special interest groups who appeared at board meetings.
The board asked Parker to work with school officials to come up with options to deal with the immediate Franklin situation by the opening of school this September.
Those suggestions will go to the operations committee which will set priorities and get more public input before the board acts on both the immediate Franklin problems and long-term solutions for the district as a whole.