SUMMIT, NJ— The Summit Board of School Estimate on Tuesday unanimously approved the $63,179,701 2012-2013 board of education budget.
Although the spending plan for the second year in a row includes a zero increase in property taxes for school purposes, according to School Business Administrator Louis Pepe, city residents will see a $14.22 increase in taxes for the average Summit home—assessed at $407,000—due to the decrease in ratables in the city.
Dave Bomgaars, Common Council finance chair and a member of the school estimate board, noted that, with the taxes for municipal purposes and the public library, Summit taxpayers will see an increase of $37 in taxes on the average home this year.
Although the county tax levy has not yet been announced, city officials have estimated that portion of the property tax bill would increase about 10 percent this year.
Preceding the budget vote, Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker said he was once again glad to see a spending plan that preserves the education program, athletics and performing arts in the Summit schools and features “dollars focused on educational outcomes for our students.”
He added for the second year in a row the Summit district did what few of the districts in the state were able to do—produce a budget with an increase less than that of the previous year without layoffs.
The superintendent noted this was done, for example, by eliminating and consolidating positions no longer needed in the city’s schools and creating new positions such as that of an educational facilitator who will help city students continue to gain admission to the nation’s top colleges.
Pepe said the budget was produced through the hard work of the board operations committee and his staff that focused on maintaining a high quality education while keeping the taxpayer in mind.
He also praised the institution of a five-year plan for future expenditures and noted the school board, as it did last year, was able to “bank” a portion of its cap limit that could be used to offset potential budgetary increases for the next two years.
In addition, the business administrator pointed out, the education body voted to bank $727,200 it received from the state due to the increased enrollment in the city’s schools.
Responding to a statement by Bomgaars that the school budget was kept low partially because the city had assumed $5 million of the school system’s debt, Pepe said because Summit is a Type I school district it does not have to “track” debt service in its budget.
He added, however, that the district works with Summit Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer of School Moneys Scott Olsen to obtain all debt service funds it can from the state.
Bomgaars congratulated the board for producing a zero-tax-increase budget for the second year in a row, noting it included a more than 8 percent decline in general administration expenses and an increase in instructional costs of slightly over 1 percent.
He added, however, there was little the city and school board could do by the decrease in tax ratables caused chiefly by tax appeals.
Mayor Ellen Dickson said she was happy the school board made her first year as the city’s chief executive so easy by passing a zero-tax-increase budget.
She added the city and board now were challenged to increase ratables in Summit, but at least settlement of the school system’s contract with the Summit Education Association helped bring financial stability for at least the next two years.
Pepe said since the contract had not yet been ratified school officials could not discuss the terms of the settlement.
Board operations committee chair, Ed Mokuvos, said he was impressed by the rigor of the budgetary process as applied by Parker and Pepe and his staff.
He added the Summit district shows it is one that believes “hope is not a strategy” and expressed confidence the board could meet challenging times ahead.
Mokuvos said the district should continue to exhibit that fact that it could get by without an overreliance on uncertain state aid.
Councilman and estimate board member, Robert Rubino, said he was impressed with the operational efficiency of the education body in maintaining the schools, which he called the “crowned jewel” of Summit.
He noted although the school board was careful with expenditures it wisely spent money on capital outlay when needed to avoid large expenditures in the future.
Board of Education President Michelle Stevenson congratulated Parker, Pepe, the mayor and the school estimate board on producing a fiscally prudent budget while maintaining quality.
She noted the school board in 2010 wisely set goals for the future, resulting in reductions in tax increases from 5.6 percent in 2010 to zero in the last two budgets.
Addressing a concern raised by residents in the school board meeting proceeding the school estimate session, Stevenson noted there would be no “redistricting” of students to relieve overcrowding at Franklin School for the upcoming school year.
In a meeting held on Tuesday morning with school officials Ross Haber, the demographer hired by the board, said the district should conduct additional studies before deciding whether to redistribute the elementary school population to meet the Franklin problem.
Speaking at the Tuesday evening school board meeting, resident David Shanker said it appeared there had been “a lot of meetings behind the scenes on this issue without parent input.”
He called for public release of any minutes of those meetings and wanted to know how much of this year’s budget had been allocated to redistributing students in response to the Franklin situation.
Pepe responded that the only expense in the budget was $8,500 for Haber’s initial study.
Parker added the only meetings held on the subject were those approving the hiring of Haber and sessions with school officials and the presidents of the city’s Parent Teacher Organizations in connection with the demographer’s study.
Stevenson invited the parents to address their concerns at the board’s April 19 workshop meeting in the Wilson School board meeting room.
Pepe also said if further funds were needed to help the district deal with the Franklin situation a “stop” could be put on the use of budget funds for certain purposes and those funds shifted to deal with the overcrowding challenge.
He also said capital outlay funds were available in case an addition is needed at Franklin.
On another matter, Dickson told The Alternative Press prior to the school estimate board meeting that the Gateway Chamber of Commerce had selected Summit City Administrator Chris Cotter as its Administrator of the Year.