Summit School Board Budget Presentations Begin with Personnel, Capital Equipment, Athletics

Assistant Superintendent of Schools for Business Louis Pepe Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Athletic Director Bob Lockhart Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ—The portion of the Summit public school district's expenses which makes up about 70 percent of the budget—personnel--was among the initial items presented to the city's board of education at its workshop session on Thursday.

According to assistant superintendent for business Louis Pepe, the 2014-2015 spending plan for personnel will increase by about $415,000 over last year's plan.

He noted that personnel costs account for about $43 million of the approximately $61 million budget, with personnel costs for regular program instruction at $20,863,146, special education at $8,378,500, school administration, $3,698,246 and custodial and maintenance, including security, at $2,882,000.

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Among the considerations in formulating the personnel and health benefit budget, according to Pepe, were projected contract settlements with the Summit Education Association and the Summit Principals Association, which account for about 98 percent of schools' staff; class size and projected enrollment growth, proposed block scheduling at Summit High School, the option for tuition-funded full-day kindergarten and new personnel requests (amounting to about $1.6 million (based on an estimate of $85,000 in starting salary and benefits for each new teacher hired)).

The business administrator did point out, however, that, over the last five years, while enrollment has increased from 3,794 to 4,074, or 7.4 percent, the number of staff positions has moved up only 7.5 percent, increasing from 534.3 positions in 2008 to 574.55 positions.

During that time, he noted, the square footage of district facilities has grown from 573,057 to 684,257, or 19.4 percent, chiefly due to the opening of the Jefferson and Wilson Primary Centers.

Despite the continually rising cost of health care, however, Pepe noted the tab for Summit has decreased from $7,765,000 to $7,691,201 in the last five years.

A number of factors have helped to moderate costs, he said, including now-required employee contributions to health benefit premiums and institution of employee wellness and employee assistance plans to keep claims under control and the institution of flexible employee health spending accounts.

He added that the district also has saved about $1.2 million because employees have opted out of the district health plans in favor of plans offered through plans of spouses or other family members.

District human resources director Ken Shulack also noted that the Affordable Care Act has allowed younger teachers just entering the district out of college to remain on their parents' health plans until age 26.

As for employee contributions to the district plan, Pepe said these amounted to $670,000 during the 2012 fiscal year, $1,338,133 in 2013 and $1,962,200 in 2014, with employee contributions estimated at $2,462,200 for the 2015 fiscal year.

He added that, following the 2015 fiscal year, the level of employee health benefit cost contributions will be the subject of collective bargaining negotiations.

As for capital equipment purchases coming from the district's Fund 12, Pepe noted that the district has saved a considerable amount of money by gradually upgrading over a number of years, resulting in “less putting out fires and more maintenance.”

Much of the anticipated expenditures--$490,000--will go toward educational technology equipment.

Expenditures also include an estimated $31,386 for operation of plants and equipment and $5,012,000 for construction services.

Superintendent of schools Nathan Parker also pointed out that salary requests at the top of the priority list now include payment for addition of another half-time guidance counselor at Franklin School and addition of a forensics coach specializing in debating.

He also said another sports trainer is needed because of increased student participation in a number of sports, especially in more dangerous areas like wrestling and hockey where a trainer is not currently available.

Parker also noted there will be another “bump” in the teaching staff at the high school because of increased enrollment, with a freshman class estimated at 300. There should be less demand in a few years, he added, when levels of incoming classes are not expected to be as high.

Responding to a question from board member James Freeman, the superintendent said the required staffing allocations for the optional full-day kindergarten program, expected to start in September, are not yet set, but it is possible there will be a mix of teachers currently in the district and instructors hired for the new program.

Operations committee chairman David Dietze noted that tuition for the new program will be $5,500 per year for the parents of most students, with the parents of students eligible for the federal free and reduced lunch programs charged “considerably less.”

Dietze said current plans call for two sections of 20 students each—one at Jefferson School for students residing at that school's territory and one at Wilson School for those residing within its district boundaries. If a third section is needed it would be based at Wilson.

He added 107 applications already have been received, with the final day for applications set for Tuesday, January 21, and a lottery to determine who will fill the initial 40 spots set for the following day. There then would be a waiting list to determine additional attendees, and, if there is to be a third section, students will be able to come from any area of the city.

Responding to another question from Freeman, on overall district staffing, Parker said Summit's staffing levels are in about the middle range for New Jersey.

Recently-appointed athletic director Bob Lockhart noted athletics amounts to $1.2 million—about 1.9 percent of the total district budget.

Of the total, $510,000 is for boys' sports, $441,000 for girls' sports, $157,000 for co-educational sports and the remainder is for taping equipment, miscellaneous rentals and similar expenses.

The athletic budget is up about 2.1 percent over that of last year, Lockhart added.

Broken down into expenditure categories, he noted coach stipends “drive” spending with $741,928, followed by transportation costs at $229,170, supplies at $102,560, and officials' fees at $94,335.

Also driving the increases, the athletic director said, are the fact that $21,605 will have to be spent on increased salaries for two assistant basketball coaches who will be moving up on the salary guide and $5,329 more in officials' fees because the state, which sets the staffing levels, is requiring additional officials in some sports.

The goals of the Hilltopper sports program, Lockhart noted, are to promote learning, teach life skills, such as teamwork, and teaching healthy lifestyles and sportsmanship.

He added there are a total of 29 sports, with 10 each in the fall and spring and nine in the winter, with a total of 1,529 participants at the middle school and high school levels.

Participation has jumped from 68 percent of the student body during the 2001-2002 school year to 71.1 percent in the 2013-2014 school year, and while enrollment has increased only 42 percent during that time the participation level has increased by 49 percent.

Among the 29 varsity teams, Lockhart noted, there have been 19 conference champions, 17 county champions, seven state sectional champions, six state group champions and three overall state champions.

During both the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons the Hilltoppers produced four coaches of the year, four teams in the top 20 in New Jersey, he added, and, in just one season this year, there already have been two coaches of the year, and two teams in the top 20.

He also commended the students, their parents and other residents of Summit for their high participation in school and community events, rewards and recognition, the high level of donations to sports programs and the support of the Summit Booster Club, which raises about $50,000 per year.

In official action at Thursday's meeting, the board unanimously gave its support to the televising of future school body meetings, with videotaping of workshop and regular meetings to possibly begin with the workshop meeting in February.

The school district is expected to begin advertising tomorrow for two students to be paid to do the taping two evenings per month with a number of students available in case of vacations or other activities which preclude the designated students from taping the meetings.

The board also gave its approval to have residents call into future meetings via teleconference and these audio transmissions possibly to be added to the videotapes in the future.

At this juncture, callers only would listen to the meetings via the audio hockup. If questions are to be allowed in the future, board members would have to work out a system for identifying Summit residents who are on each call, In addition, the school body will discuss how to protect the confidentiality of students on tapes that include school presentations.




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