Education

Summit Council Adopts $17.55 Million Ordinance for Improvements to Schools

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Summit Common Council President Robert Rubino and Mayor Ellen Dickson listen to council comments at Tuesday's meeting. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
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Council finance chairman Mike McTernan talks about the proposed school improvements. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
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SUMMIT, NJ - A bond ordinance calling for the issuance of $17.55 million in bonds to support major improvements to Summit’s schools was adopted unanimously Tuesday by the Summit Common Council.

Council finance and personnel chairman Mike McTernan had some good financial news about expenditures surrounding the ordinance. He praised assistant superintendent of schools for business Louis Pepe for his efforts in obtaining $1,166,912 in state Regular Operating Districts (or RODs) grants to offset some of the costs of the projects.

Pepe did not stop there, McTernan noted. When the state initially turned down the district’s request for RODs funding for improvements to the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School auditorium Pepe appealed the decision and won an additional $522,703 in grants. This means the city’s liability under the bond issue was reduced from $16,383,000 to $15,860,385.

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Among the major school improvements anticipated, the finance chairman pointed out, in addition to the middle school auditorium upgrade, will be improvements to the school’s classrooms and science laboratories and repointing of the brickwork on the school’s exterior. There also will be upgrades to the security systems at Franklin and Jefferson elementary schools and an addition to Jefferson as well as new boilers at Summit High School.

Although pleased with the suggested improvements, council public safety chairman Patrick Hurley noted that, when school officials initially proposed the improvements they placed a high priority on updates to the security systems in the schools. Thus far, however, Hurley added, district officials have chiefly emphasized revamping of the school vestibules. He said he would like to see more specifics on how school officials propose to update the security infrastructure in the schools.

A portion of the school improvements, council president Robert Rubino said, will go toward improving the drainage from the current Jefferson School addition to the area of the Summit Family Aquatic Center. He noted this was one of the conditions the board of school estimate placed on its support for the school improvements.

In addition to Jefferson School area improvements, the council also on Tuesday awarded a $416,780.07 contract for work on the aquatic center parking lot.

Council public works chairwoman Sandra Lizza noted that, among other upgrades, five parking spaces will be added, to bring the total to 266, decorative ballards will be erected to protect the perimeter of the parking area and the distance between three driveways currently on the site—one for the school, a residential driveway and one serving the aquatic center—will be widened so that the access to the aquatic center will be 25 feet from the residential driveway and 35 feet from the school driveway. She added that the city saved some money on tree removal and replanting on the site by having city employees do the work.

On other budgetary matters, McTernan announced that the board of education’s budget approval, which had been scheduled for February 13, was moved to Wednesday, February 26, due to last week’s snowstorm. He said the school budget, as currently proposed, will result in an increase in property taxes of less than 1 percent. However, because half of the school budget falls within the current calendar year, the effect will actually be a 1.44 percent increase.

The finance chairman added that the board of education will present its budget proposals to the city’s board of school estimate on March 6 and the school estimate board is scheduled to vote on the school budget on March 26.

McTernan also noted that the council should receive rough numbers on the city’s budget during the first week in March.

In another official action at Tuesday’s meeting the governing body adopted an ordinance increasing a number of fees for recreational activities sponsored by the department of community programs.

General services chairman Albert Dill, Jr. explained that the costs of running many of the programs often increases by 10 to 20 percent and is not subject to the 2 percent state-imposed cap on municipal spending.

Community programs director Judith Leblein Josephs pointed out, however, that her department tries to keep fees stable and avoid the necessity of fee-increase ordinances. This year, however, for example, the junior football program faced increased costs for legally-required certification of its helmets.

Rubino and Josephs both noted that funding many of the programs through user fees means that city taxpayers do not have to bear the costs of these programs.

Rubino referenced a proposal in the state legislature to do away with user fees and force municipalities such as Summit to subject current user-fee-funded programs to the 2 percent cap limit.

Josephs replied that subjecting the programs to the cap rather than funding them through the recreation trust fund probably would mean the elimination of many existing programs and not allow for the insitution of new programs suggested by residents.

On another recreation matter, Hurley said the city needs to advance its technology among all departments so that, for example, community programs will be able to use more advanced software to calculate usage and other data in determing its fee structure.

Josephs replied the department, for the time being, is adjusting an existing Edmunds software program to partially achieve the goal advocated by Hurley.

In another official action, the council members voted to renewal the city’s health department services contract with the Westfield Regional Health Department for another three years. The 2014 cost of the contract is $62,752.

Health officer Megan Avallone noted Summit saves on the costs of the program because it provides its own nurses and a health inspector. 

Westfield provides backup to the health inspector, the services of Avallone and other items, so that the Hilltop City has 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-per year coverage. Summit also is able to provide baby keepwell services and influenza innoculations.

In another action at Tuesday’s session, the council adopted an ordinance providing for $375,000 in bonding to finance correction of erosion problems on the Salt Brook. The homeowners affected by the erosion will be assessed for the cost of the work minus any grant money the city receives to stabilize the brook.

Mayor Ellen Dickson also announced that she and community activist Susan Hairston would sponsor the annual forum on diversity on Tuesday, February 25 beginning at 8 am in the Whitman Community Room of city hall. The purpose of the forum is to receive input on the city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. program and other suggestions to improve diversity in Summit.

The mayor also announced that King Dada Tossoh Gbaguidi XIII of Benin, West Africa, and his entourage would visit her office tomorrow at 11 am. The king accepted the mayor’s invitation during his February 7 visit to the city’s Lincoln Hubbard School.

In other news, city business administrator Christopher Cotter announced that Summit residents 16 years of age and older could train to become part of Summit’s Community Emergence Response Team or CERT. CERT is a team of volunteers who help other residents during emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy. 

Cotter said the training would be conducted by police and fire department members on Monday evenings during March and April. Information is available from Summit Police Lieutenant Michael Cantone.

 

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