Summit School District, Education Association Come to Impasse in Contract Talks

Christine Murray of the Summit Education Foundation presents SEF grant awards to the board of education. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
SEF grants committee co-chair Irene Murdock outlines some of the spring grants from the Summit Education Committee to the Summit public schools. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ—Contract negotiations between the Summit Board of Education and the Summit Education Association, the bargaining unit for teachers, custodians and secretaries in city schools, have reached an impasse, board president Gloria Ron-Fornes announced Thursday.

According to Ron-Fornes, the SEA decided to turn negotiations over to a state mediator earlier this month after five bargaining sessions, each lasting about two hours.

The board president noted that approximately $41 million in salaries and benefits are provided to teaching staff members and the education association, in negotiations, has consistently presented salary-increase demands that would cause the board to exceed the state-mandated 2 percent increase in spending.

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She disputed a contention made by Dan Miller, SEA president, on May 2 that the education association had made an 11th hour offer to accept salary increases under the 2 percent “cap.”

Ron-Fornes added that school staff members will continue to work during the mediation process under the conditions that exist in the current contract and the board would pursue a settlement that is consistent with the economy and fairness to its employees.

At Thursday’s workshop session of the school body, its vice president, Celia Colbert, presented Ron-Fornes with a floral arrangement in recognition of her service as presiding officer. Colbert is expected to succeed Ron-Fornes as president at next Thursday’s reorganization meeting of the education body.

The outgoing president, who said she will make more extensive remarks at next Thursday’s meeting, said at the workshop session that she has served with a great deal of pride while presiding over the school board this past year.

Thursday’s session also was the last for Edgar Mokuvos, who decided not to seek appointment to a second three-year term. Mayor Ellen Dickson has appointment library board trustee Deb McCann to succeed Mokuvos.

Ron-Fornes praised the outgoing board member for his “tremendous contributions” as chairman of the operations and education committees and said is proud to know him as a friend and a colleague. She lauded him for bring great ideas and structure to the school body.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Louis Pepe said not every community was as fortunate as Summit in the high quality of those selected to serve on its board of education. He pointed out that, as chairman of the operations committee for two years, Mokuvos had helped bring a great deal of structure to the planning process for the facilities improvements now taking place in the Summit schools.

Praise also came from Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker, who also noted that Mokuvos, a member of the board of Cooper Union University, helped him locate the transcript of his father, who graduated that institution in 1929.

Mokuvos replied that it had been a pleasure to serve and what he saw during that service made him even more proud to be a resident of Summit.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, outgoing district human resources director Kenneth Shulack introduced Paul Arilotta, who will serve as his interim replacement when Shulack leaves on July 1.

Arilotta, who will be leaving a rule as interim human resources director in the Mamoroneck, NY Union Free School District to come to the Hilltop City, previously served as superintendent of schools in Hanover Park and interim superintendent in Ridgewood.

In other administrative news, Ron-Fornes announced the the board had narrowed down the list of candidates to succeed Parker when he retires next year. She added, however, they still are reviewing resumes.

The board president also said she had sent a letter to RISE (Residents in Support of Summit Education) replying to their request to have residents and teaching staff members serve on a search committee for the new superintendent.

In response to a call by RISE members for greater input into the process the board has reasserted its statutory responsibility to make the final decision on the superintendent replacement. It also has noted that the school body has held a number of forums during which it sought community input into the selection process.

In other action at Thursday’s meeting, the board accepted $320,654 in spring 2014 grants from the Summit Education Foundation to finance programs and equipment in the city’s public schools.

Highlighted below are some of the grants announced Thursday by SEF grants committee co-chairs Christine Murray and Irene Murdock:

  • $129,000 for continuation of the “1-to-1 iPad Grade Level Pilot,” which, in its second year of funding, will see current sixth graders at the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School move with their iPads to the seventh grade whill purchasing one of the tools for every student in the incoming sixth grade class. The school’s PTO will provide an additiona $10,000 for the program, which will enable teachers to expand instructional opportunities both in school and when the students take the instruments home.
  • $89,026 for the extended day program, to enable more intense instruction in English and mathematics skills for students in all five elementary schools who are partially proficient on the NJASK standardized tests or district assessments.
  • $5,350 for a visit by Melissa Stewart, the author of more than 150 science books for children, for a full day in each elementary school including author and interactive presentations. The grant includes the speaker expense plus $250 per school to purchase additional books for its library.
  • $9,751 for “Wilson Nature Obsservatory: An Outdoor Learning Lab Designed for the Development of Habits of the Mind.:
  • $270 for “Supporting Second Grade Writers” to generate ideas, sequence the ideas and find text evidence to support the ideas in developing better writers in the Lincoln-Hubbard School second grade.
  • $5,000 for the “Professional Development for Leadership Group Focused on a Call to Close the Achievement Gap” at Jefferson and Washington Schools.
  • $8,229 to purchase 15 Lego Mindstorm EV3 core sets and expansion sets in the new robotics component in the 7th grade STEAM cycle course at the middle school.
  • $35,000 to continue financing the college specialist role introduced last year to help Summit High School students through college education and admission and career exploration.
  • $6,900 for the purchase of materials to be used in Top of the Hill, the Summit High School store opened last September.
  • $12,750 to support the high school’s science reseaerch program by funding a stipend for a part-time liaison between the school’s science research students and the community and to continue organizational support for the newly-formed research parents association.

Parker noted the education foundation had provided about $3.1 million in grants to the schools over the last several years and, over the last four years, had accumulated a $4 million endowment to continue its grants process.

The superintendent also congratulated Julie Glazer, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, on recently attaining her doctorate.

Glazer also announced that the district, after a year of piloting both Go Math and Envision Math in kindergarten through fifth grade, had decided to implement the Envision program in district schools. She said the professional development support provided for teachers by Pearson Educational Publishing for Envision was a deciding factor.

She added that the previous Everyday Math program was not able to be updated to meet the Common Core State Standards in mathematics.

On the operations front, Colbert, in the absence of operations committee chairman David Dietze, and Pepe announced that a $30,000 repair would have to be made to replace a cornice that had fallen from the outside of the high school.

The assistant superintendent for business explained that, since the cornice was not near an entrance or exit of the school the fact that it fell did not present a danger or an emergent situation. He noted, however, that all cornices at the school would be inspected to see what, if any work needed to be done on them in the future.

Melanie Wilson of Speak Up Summit said her group was deeply disappointed that the district had not decided to go ahead with block scheduling after the board had gone into great detail about the advantages it would bring to the district.

Ron-Fornes, at the last board meeting, said the new scheduling system could not be started during the 2014-2015 school year due to changes in staff assignments and scheduling that might come up in the SEA negotiations.

She said Thursday Parker was very hopeful the new system would begin in the fall of 2015.

In the meantime, the board president added, high school principal Paul Sears was implementing lunch seating reconfigurations and other items that had been projected as part of block scheduling.

On another topic from the education committee, Mokuvos announced two sections of the tuition-based fullday kindergarten program would begin in the fall and the program would be assessed with comparison with current half-day kindergarten students as a “control” group and additional assessments by the National Institute for Early Education Research and a retired superintendent of schools from a district outside of Summit.


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