SUMMIT, NJ - Five-year Board of Education member George Lucaci, who served as board vice president last year, on Wednesday took over as president as the school body held its annual reorganization session.

In nominating Lucaci, board member Celia Colbert noted he is a 25-year resident of the city and a graduate of Duke University and holds a master’s degree in business administration from Washington University. He is employed by a hedge fund management firm.

Lucaci’s term on the board was scheduled to end this year, but last year’s president, Michelle Stevenson, agreed to end her term one year earlier in order to give Lucaci a chance to assume the presidency.

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The unanimous choice for vice president was Gloria Ron-Fornes, who has chaired the school body’s education and policy committees.

In nominating Ron-Fornes, Lucaci cited her high moral character and the fact that she graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken with a degree in applied mathematics, a feat he said was rare for women.

The new board president noted Ron-Fornes began her career in 1981 and is now a marketing executive at IBM. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational Portuguese. 

He pointed out the new vice president is a native of Cuba and speaks fluent Portuguese, which makes her a strong advocate for the world language programs in the city’s schools.

In addition to the swearing in of Lucaci and Ron-Fornes to new terms on the education body, Elizabeth Anne Burton and David G. Dietze took oaths for their initial terms on the board.

Since Summit is a Type I school district, Mayor Ellen Dickson appointed all the school body members.

In other news at Wednesday’s meeting, school human resources director, Ken Shulack, announced the Summit Education Association had ratified a three-year contract agreed to with the board about a month ago.

Under the pact, salary increases for teachers and other staff members who are SEA members will average about 2 per cent per year over the life of the agreement and they are retroactive to September 1, 2011, Shulack said.

He added, “Throughout these negotiations both sides were cognizant of the economic times we are living in and we managed to keep the increases within the state cap limit.”

The human resources director also noted consideration was given to the fact that staff members now will pay a greater portion of their salaries for health insurance and the agreement also includes a three-year freeze on co-curricular stipends.

He said the district also probably would see additional savings because all employees are expected to switch from traditional to point-of-service health plans.

In her remarks as departing president, Stevenson noted the board had ratified a new contract with Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker that will be effective until 2015.

Parker’s contract has been approved by the Union County executive superintendent of schools, which means his salary increase is within state guidelines. State salary “caps” for school superintendents, based on school population, caused many school executives to retire earlier than expected last year.

Stevenson said Summit was fortunate that Parker decided to remain in the district despite some financial hardship to his family.

Additionally, she thanked departing school board member Tom O’Rourke for his mentorship during the five years she was on the school body. She also paid tribute to the hard work of Parker, the executive cabinet, the school administrative staffs and her fellow board members for helping the board accomplish much during her term.

She cited the adoption of four new focus areas for the board of education and the excellent way the board was able to tackle such difficult issues as class sizes at Lincoln-Hubbard School, discussions about school uniforms and the recently-released school population study.

Stevenson also thanked Dickson for making the school body transition a smooth one this year and cited a strong working relationship between the board and Common Council, as evidenced by the first-ever joint meeting of the two bodies this year.

The Summit Board of Education’s governance structure, she added, “is serving as a model for school boards throughout the state.

Prior to presenting Stevenson with a gift from the board, Lucaci thanked her for the “grace she displayed during an unusually difficult year.”

The new president said the state of the city schools is strong, partially due to the “non-partisan” support for the Summit education system in all parts of the city and among all socio-economic groups.

He added while many districts shied away from adding to their schools during the difficult economic times Summit “did not run for cover,” advancing education without significant staff reductions and making $23 million in capital improvements over the last few years with state aid following a time when the city schools lost all of their state funding.

However, Lucaci said, an achievement gap still remains in the city’s schools and he considers this an “outrage” that only can be overcome with increased teacher and parental involvement.

One of the goals, he added, should be to involve more girls in science and mathematics careers by encouraging them to enroll in advanced mathematics and science courses.

Lucaci also encouraged each teacher to “create the future rather than to sit comfortably in the past.”

Expectations, the new president said, should be raised for students, parents and teachers at all levels.

Ron-Fornes thanked her colleagues for electing her and Dickson for re-appointing her.

She also thanked O’Rourke for his encouragement when he interviewed her for her first appointment to the board.

Ron-Fornes called her husband, Hugo, “her rock” for supporting her school body work, and her sons, Brandon and Adrian, who, she said, brought her to a greater realization of compassion and empathy.

O’Rourke said his departure after nine years on the board was emotional, but he came to appreciate the commitment that caused board members to devote 15 or 20 hours per week to the schools.

He noted he was initially appointed to the board by late Mayor Walter Long and reappointed twice by former Mayor Jordan Glatt.

In addition, O’Rourke said, he had served under three different superintendents and with 27 different board members.

In this process, he noted, he had worked with about 430 teachers and administrators and helped administer a $60 million budget.

O’Rourke concluded by agreeing with the recent statement by Councilman Robert Rubino that Summit’s schools were the “gem of our city.”

Parker thanked all those under whom he served, but particularly O’Rourke, Stevenson, Lucaci and former board president, Eleanor Doyle, who were on the selection committee when he joined the Summit schools.

He said the Summit system, that allowed each board member to serve as president, allowed each of them to learn all the facets of the school body’s operation and apply each of their different styles for the good of education in Summit.

The superintendent said he accepted his contract renewal “with a sense of appreciation and humility.”

In other action at the re-organization session, the following were named to chair board committees for the coming year:

  • Education—Colbert
  • Operations—Ed Mokuvos
  • Negotiations-Lucaci
  • Policy—Katherine Kalin
  • Communications—Ron-Fornes

During a discussion on board liaison assignments Lucaci told Speak-Up Summit President Melanie Wilson that board members would make a greater effort to attend the group’s meetings and would increase their presence at the group’s Saturday special events.

Wilson agreed with a suggestion by Mokuvos that busy board members possibly could attend meetings via telephone if they could not be present in person.

Mukovos and Colbert also presented resolutions of appreciation to Speak-Up Summit, the Summit Education Foundation, the Parent-Teacher Associations and Parent-Teacher Organizations of the various schools, the Summit Boosters Association, the Summit Music Parents Association, the Summit Performing Arts Resource Committee and the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee.

During its regular meeting following the reorganization session the education body approved the reappointment of approximately 250 tenured staff members.

Also approved was the appropriation of $143,000 from the capital reserve to cover additional work requested by the school district on the high school auditorium project.

School Business Administrator Louis Pepe explained the two major changes involved about $50,000 to upgrade old wiring found during the renovation and to wire the auditorium so live performances could be broadcast to high school media literacy classes.