SUMMIT, NJ - The first 2021 Summit Board of Education meeting -- held the same day the Summit Public Schools returned to classrooms for in-person instruction following the remote-only learning that sandwiched both sides of the December break -- offered a look at budget planning for the 2021-22 school year and recognized Summit's High School's Class of 2021 National Merit Scholars.
Superintendent Scott Hough and Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe presented the budget overview. The budget process, which began in October 2020, will conclude in March with the approval of the final budget by the Board of School Estimate. The tentative budget will be presented on February 11.
Hough said that the District’s mission is to see each student excel beyond state standards.
“It truly is a collaborative effort to create a budget that allows us to achieve our goals in a fiscally responsible manner,” Hough said. He said that this budget aligns student needs with available resources.
He said that the budget process provides District leaders with an opportunity to meet those needs through planned expenditures of resources from a combination of local, state, and federal contributions. Hough said that this year the factors that are driving the budget are:
- Managing health benefit renewals;
- Reduction of employee contributions for health benefit costs;
- Ongoing negotiations -- the Summit Education Association (teachers, secretaries, custodians);
- Maintaining operational efficiency;
- Multi-year planning for sustainability of quality program; and
- Stabilization of tax impact.
Recruiting and retaining the “best and the brightest” teachers and staff requires considerable outlay of funds, making it a challenge to stay within the state two percent budget cap, he said. The District feels pressure for wage increases to keep pace with neighboring high performing districts and County averages, he said.
“Costs are not constant at two percent,” he said, noting the cost of goods and services is increasing by about three percent.
Revenue is down, he said, with a decrease in the fund balance of $100,384, and a projected loss of $650,000 from Chapter 44 on employee contributions toward health care.
Hough said that the budget process “involves collaboration, fiscal review, account and program analysis, and investment decisions.”
Target areas are:
- Classroom instruction through highly qualified teachers and aides;
- Curriculum and staff development;
- Access to technology and quality programs, which includes remote instruction on new digital platforms and investment in technology;
- Guidance, counseling and support which allows for social / emotional wellness and better mental health (which addresses a current Board goal);
- Health and safety; transportation; and food service;
- Facilities management, maintenance and energy; and
- Athletics and Clubs (Co-curricular), which, he said is “a big part of our identity as Hilltoppers.”
He outlined the District’s commitments:
Academic Rigor: reviewing existing programs and looking at new program opportunities that deliver results for student growth and achievement.
Portrait of a Graduate: working through a K-12 experience each year to prepare our students for future success today.
Social responsibility: development of social responsibility for our students, faculty, and staff.
Smart purchasing: ensuring we are consuming resources with a mind-set of fiscal responsibility and return on investment to maximize purchasing.
Innovations: leading our peers in exploration of innovative learning through blended learning and hybrid models of delivery of instruction
Cutting-edge education: unlocking student potential through STEAM initiatives, robotics, problem-solving skills, and a host of new initiatives.
Pepe said that the budget process is long and detailed.
“We don’t just throw numbers out,” he said. He said that during the month of March there are three meetings focusing on the 2021-22 budget. “It’s our March Madness.”
He said that the District continues to look for efficiencies and reductions.
Managing health benefits continues to be challenging, Pepe said. “I don’t see that changing in the future.” He said that the “significant reductions” in employee health care contributions will impact the budget.
“It’s one of the things we have to contend with this year,” he said.
“We don’t rest on our past performance,” he said. “We are constantly looking for ways to be innovative and creative and be judicious in how we utilize resources to save money.”
Pepe said that “it’s getting harder and harder to manage within the two percent cap,” because costs are not constant at two percent.
“That's one of the things we’re going to be up against this year,” he said. “In this particular budget year it will be quite a challenge."
National Merit Scholarship Program
Summit High School Principal Stacy Grimaldi acknowledged the 21 seniors that received National Merit Scholarship Program recognition.
Typically, the commended students are in attendance at this annual recognition meeting, and they present a book of their choosing to a teacher who has influenced them during their time in the Summit schools. However, because of the pandemic, students were unable to attend. Instead, Grimaldi read their names and their senior portraits were displayed.
The Class of 2021 commended scholar students are:
* National Merit Scholar Semifinalist
In her president’s report, Board President Donna Miller said that it was “premature” for her to announce at last month’s Board meeting that an agreement had been made with the Summit Principals’ Association.
She said that the District is working with the SEA on contract negotiations, and the next meeting date has been proposed.
In his superintendent’s report, Hough said that the District has received “overwhelmingly positive reports” on the remote instructional plan. He said that teachers and administrators have worked hard to improve delivery.
“We continue to ask for everyone’s patience and flexibility moving forward,” he said.
Peggy Wong discussed a new program 'Race in American Society' that examines race and racism in historic and contemporary context; a sheltered instruction program for ELL students; an audio engineering class that piggybacks with an SEF grant for music room updates; and 'Bridge Year,' a state program for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years that is essentially a 'fifth year' of high school program for students who have graduated.
Mike Colon discussed the tax impact of the loss of $650,000 from Chapter 44 for employee contributions to healthcare. He discussed a five-year facilities plan and the exploration of projects that could be co-funded with state and federal resources.
Chris Bonner reported that three mandated policies were up for first reading, one on remote public board meetings during a declared emergency; one on athletics as it relates to emergencies and sports-related injuries during competitions; and one on a seizure action plan for students with epilepsy and seizure disorders. Up for second reading were two policies, one on school district security and the other on the use of school facilities by outside groups.
Josh Weinreich reported on discussions the committee had on communications between the District and all school community stakeholders. He acknowledged the importance of the athletic director continuing communication with coaches, students, and families.
Miller said that the next proposed meeting date is for the end of January.