Education

Summit Board of Education Advocates for Same Class Parameters, Tuition for 2017-18 FDK Program; Current Board Member, Former President Say Universal Program Should be Explored

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The Summit Board of Education is set to recommend that the District continue with its Full-Day Kindergarten program for 2017-18 under its current, tuition-based parameters. Credits: Greg Elliott / TAPinto Summit
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SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Board of Education is scheduled to recommend -- at its upcoming regular October meeting -- that the City public school district continue, for the 2017-18 school year, with the tuition-based Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) program now in place. This recommendation would also include the authorization of six classes of 22 students each, and an option to add two more classes if justified by demand and potential enrollment.

If the proposal, made by Superintendent of Schools June Chang and presented by Director of Elementary Education Jennifer Ambrose at the school board’s workshop session, is approved at the October 20 meeting, the program's tuition would continue at $7,175 with a reduced rate of $2,152.50 and a free rate of $717.50 in accordance with the national school free / reduced lunch program.

Half of the classes in the FDK program would be based at the Wilson Primary Center, with the other half at the Jefferson Primary Center, as is the case with the 2016-17 program.

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In her presentation, Ambrose noted that enrollment in the FDK program increased from 40 the first year to 120 last year and 132 in the current year.

She added that there are two half-day kindergarten classes in each of the two primary centers, bringing total kindergarten enrollment in Summit’s public schools to 194 with five students on the waiting list.

Instructional programs consist of English language arts and literature under the Teachers College Program, mathematics using the Go Math Program, science using the state’s Next Generation Math Standards, with Summit adding its own programs and social studies utilizing the New Jersey Core Standards supplemented by Summit-devised programs.

Special education kindergarten students in the FDK program receive instruction in music arts and physical education, while those in the half-day program only are instructed in physical education, Ambrose said.

She added that staff members are certified in early childhood or elementary education with many also having a second certification in special education.

There also are ongoing professional development programs led by in-house staff including Ambrose and primary school principal Janice Tierney and Teachers College staff members.

The elementary education director added that the City’s public schools staff attempts, as much as possible, to collaborate with staff members from non-public school programs in Summit, but the response has not been as good as she would like.

As some measure of the program, Ambrose noted that 14 of the 120 FDK students last year, or 12 percent, were enrolled in basic skills classes, compared with 5 of 82 Half-Day students or 6 percent, 16 of 60 non-public school students or 27 percent and 12 or 56 students who moved into Summit, or 21 percent.

In the first grade class of 318 students 47 -- or 15 percent -- were enrolled in basic skills classes.

The superintendent also noted that his recommendation on the FDK program was presented one month earlier this year than last year in order to give parents more time in choosing between the tuition-based FDK program or having their children attend the free, universal Half-Day program.

Ambrose said, due to the differing class sizes in the FDK program thus far, the staff has not collected enough data to make a long-range prediction on the success or future of the program.

Based on the data presented, Board education committee chairwoman Debra McCann said her committee supported the superintendent’s recommendation on FDK.

However, committee member Vanessa Primack, while stating that both Summit’s FDK and Half-Day programs were pretty strong, said the data on the programs was fairly new. She suggested that, perhaps in the future, the Board should reconsider whether to establish a free, universal FDK program.

Board operations chairman Richard Hanley said his committee had examined the tuition projections for FDK both for this year and for 2017-18 and, calculating in fully-loaded costs and the free and reduced lunch program, had concluded the superintendent’s recommendation was in line with the “break-even” guidelines put forth over the last several years by the Board for the program.

During public comment, former Board president Celia Colbert thanked the superintendent for moving the FDK presentation up to October so parents had more time to make choices.

Colbert added, however, that she agreed with Primack that it was time to begin the discussion on universal FDK because there were many factors involved, and she felt a fuller conversation was needed.

She urged the board to constantly look at the price of tuition for the program and consider that many Summit taxpayers feel the tuition-based program does not give them the chance to fully participate.

Colbert added that families who can afford the tuition participate and, in fact, subsidize students in those families covered by the free-and-reduced-lunch program.

However, those families making less than $45,000 a year and not eligible for the lunch program who cannot afford the tuition are, in effect, shut out.

The former Board president said the school body should consider raising its contribution to the FDK program, which last year amounted to less than one tenth of one percent of the total cost.

She also asked if those who previously sent their children to the Half-Day program could be given a credit against the cost of FDK tuition.

On another tax-related issue, Hanley said Summit residents should consider that the high cost of property taxes in the city “crowds out” the ability of the schools, for example, to better finance such programs as the greenhouse program and the culinary arts program currently under consideration at the high school.

Hanley added that the Summit school budget of approximately $69 million would greatly benefit from approximately $22 million more in state aid that would come to it under Governor Chris Christie’s “Fair Tax Plan.”

He said he fully supported a dialogue on the issue, and thanked six of the seven Summit Common Council members for approving a resolution at their September 20 session in support of the Christie proposal.

On that matter, Melanie Wilson of Speak Up Summit announced the group would host a presentation on the proposal on October 18 by Assemblyman Jon Bramnick. Details would be posted on the group’s website, she noted.

Concerning the culinary arts program, assistant superintendent for business Louis Pepe announced the District just had received permission from its auditor to use $330,000 in profits from Pomptonian, its food vendor, to help pay the estimated $500,000 cost of the program.

Hanley said the $500,000 was a “very rough estimate” of the total cost of the culinary arts program, as was a projected price tag of $1 million for the greenhouse project.

Pepe added that food vendor profits already had been used to bring new tables to the schools, replace fryers with steamers to allow for more healthy food choices and convert an used area at the high school into a deli counter.

He noted that student instruction areas in the culinary arts program could bring additional capacity to the food program that could be used because of the greater number of students being served with the initiation of the block scheduling system.

The business administrator also said student instruction areas could be used during non-school areas to provide additional training areas for food service personnel.

Regarding the greenhouse program, the Chang said the $1 million estimate for a 1,000-square-foot facility came from a visit he made to a greenhouse program in New York City.

Pepe pointed out that the b

Board would be voting at its October regular meeting whether to appropriate $16,000 for the school architects to do design work in preparation for a submission of the greenhouse proposal to the New Jersey Department of Education.

Once this happens, he noted, the Board could decide if it wanted to proceed with the next two phases, for which it would get estimates on construction costs and further architectural fees at that time.

The superintendent estimated the yearly maintenance fee for the greenhouse to be about $15,000 to $20,000, which the Board would finance, with the remainder of the costs to be covered by private fundraising.

Pepe also announced the district had “closed out” $1.4 million in state Rods 4 grants on October 13, with an additional $522,000 sought for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School auditorium.

He added $728,000 in funding still was outstanding and this would end the Rods program for the District.

On other matters, Board president David Dietze announced the October 20 regular meeting would feature a presentation on PARCC Test results, and a presentation by the school body’s labor counsel on the Board’s negotiations process with its bargaining units was due in November. He said contracts with many of the units would expire this year.

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