SUMMIT, NJ - A tentative 2014-2015 school budget totaling $64,104,200, including $61,110,767 to be raised in local tax levies, was approved Wednesday by the Summit Board of Education.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Louis J. Pepe noted that the spending plan assumes that state aid will be “flat” this year, with perhaps a slight increase. He added that the budget as currently drafted would result in a tax increase of less than 1 percent.

Pepe also said the district has not yet received its state aid figures from Trenton. In his budget address on Tuesday Governor Chris Christie said there would be increases in state aid to some districts. The districts are expected to receive their state aid numbers on Friday.

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The board will present its proposed budget to the Summit Board of School Estimate on Thursday, March 6, in the common council meeting room in city hall. The school estimate board, which includes Mayor Ellen Dickson, Councilmen Michael McTernan and Patrick Hurley, board president Gloria Ron-Fornes and board operations chairman David Dietze, is expected to vote on the budget on March 25 in the council chambers.

On another item of great interest in the district, Ron-Fornes announced that the firm of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates would be retained to conduct a search for a replacement for Superintendent of Schools Nathan N. Parker, who announced late last year that he would not seek a renewal of his contract when that agreement expires in 2015. The school body on Wednesday approved the hiring of the Hazard firm.

Ron-Fornes added that the hiring of the search firm is another step in preparing for a search for the new superintendent. She noted the board has a great deal of data to gather and would make its decision deliberately with an eye toward selecting the person it believed who would serve in the best interests of the district.

In another change in the district’s administrative structure, the education body accepted the resignation of district human resources director Kenneth Shulack, effective July 1 of this year.

The school board president noted the board wanted to have the new superintendent in place in time to participate in the selection of a successor to Shulack.

She also announced that Wednesday’s meeting was the first school board session to be videotaped for rebroadcast on Hilltopper TV and the first where Summit residents were allowed to telephonically listen in on the meeting.

On another budgetary matter, Pepe announced that the board was now in the middle of the bidding process on major renovation projects planned for all the city schools. Bids received on projects thus far, he said, came in $1.3 million less than the original cost estimates. He added that the Jefferson School elementary classroom renovations, although not receiving state Regular Operating Districts or RODs grants, were eligible for $231,000 in debt service aid, thus reducing the cost to the city of that project. Also, because projects covered in the initial bidding were covered by RODs grants, which pay 40 percent of costs, the school district could cover the local share of the costs with the board’s capital reserve funds and spare the city from bonding for the projects.

Acting on bids received and approved, the board awarded contracts for additions and renovations at Jefferson and Franklin Schools, including fire alarm replacement at Franklin School, security upgrades in the main office at Washington School and the brick repointing and masonry repairs at Lawton C. Johnson Middle School. These bid awards all are subject to attorney review.

The business administrator added that approval of a fourth contract, for boiler room replacement and reconfiguration at Summit High School, was delayed because it was possible the lowest bidder may be rejected.

In the school body’s continuing series of meeting night presentations on school matters, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Julie Glazer outlined the curriculum writing and implementation process.

Glazer said the curriculum provides the overarching framework that the teachers use in classroom instruction and outlines standards to be followed and what students are expected to know at the end of a course.

She added that New Jersey mandates and the core curriculum standards set mastery goals in English language arts and mathematics for kindergarten-to-eighth grade students and career-targeted goals for those in the ninth through 12th grades.

In response to several board questions, however, she noted that, although the state mandates goals which must be attained at each grade level, the textbooks, methods of teaching and instructional materials to reach those goals were determined by teachers in the classroom.

As one example of this, she pointed to the presentation at Wednesday’s meeting of a slideshow by Franklin School first grade reading students and their teachers. Using the Pixie Technology program, the students created stories about “Soccer Tryouts” and “The Magic Paintbrush”, using the technology to draw the accompanying artwork and write the scripts in the two parts of the presentation.

On another topic, Glazer denied that the schools had stopped teaching cursive writing. She noted teaching of the subject is, in fact, outlined as a goal on report cards. Although teachers no longer use charts mounted on top of chalkboards, the assistant superintendent said an independent method of teaching cursive writing is used and there is an emphasis on improving student handwriting.

She also said the district continues to have a carefully delineated gifted and talented program, with children required to perform two years ahead of grade level, and, identification for services provided by the program also is based on multiple assessment results and learning surveys.

Although she was not able to provide Summit-specific statistics on the number of students in gifted and talented programs, Glazer said that nationally 4 to 7 percent of students are involved in the program. She added, however, it was possible she could assemble more district-specific statistics by consulting with gifted and talented instructors.

Following board passage of a number of policies aimed at revised teacher tenure and assessment methods, Shulack noted that, under the new assessment programs, following state mandates, the principal’s determination to withhold tenure now would be upheld as long as a principal followed district guidelines in coming to a determination. Previously, each determination could be subject to dispute and possibly overturned in a tenure hearing.

In addition, he said, stricter assessment guidelines required that all deadlines for assessments must be met.