SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Public School found itself with a good 'problem' on its hands -- specifically, having to meet off-schedule and in mid-summer to figure out what to do with an unexpected $300,000-plus windfall from the state government. In a special Board of Education meeting called specifically to address the development, the Board has opted to use the funds in 2019-20 and apply the surplus for property tax relief for Summit taxpayers.

“Be it resolved that the amount of $306,280 be designated for use in the 2019/20 school year budget as ‘Assigned Fund Balance-Designated for Subsequent Year’s Expenditures’ for use in 2019-20,” the approved resolution read.  

According to Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe, “There is no way to determine what the savings will be on the average home at this point, since we have not constructed the budget for next year.“

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Board President Deb McCann said, “This is day I was hoping would come.”  She gave a recent history of the District’s state funding:

  • In 2010, Summit received $3 million.
  • Then, for two years, the funding was completely cut; Summit received no state funding at all for its schools.
  • In 2013, Summit received $1.6 million, and the number slowly grew to the $1.8 million it received last year.

“For eight years, Summit has been shouldering additional tax burden,” she said.  

Earlier this month, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a $37.4 billion budget, which includes $8.5 billion in direct aid for the state’s 577 school districts.  This 4.3 percent increase in school funding over last year is an increase of $351 million statewide. Summit is one of the 391 districts that will get more aid.   

In 2017-18, Summit received $1,815,901 from the state. The anticipated 2018-19 amount -- the amount the District used for its budgeting purposes-- was $2,008,784. Summit actually will receive $2,315,064, an increase of $306,280.

Pepe explained that Summit had three options with what to do with the money. The Department of Education, on its website, states that “District boards of education/boards of school estimate that recognized an increase in total generation fund state aid may choose by board resolution dated no later than August 1, 2018 to use the increased funding during 2018-19 to

1) Provide tax relief (with approval from the municipality and/or county tax office) or by reducing the certified tax levy presented in the originally approved 2018-19 budget; and/or

2) Increase the 2018-19 general fund appropriations during the budget year; and/or

3) Designate for use in 2019-20.”

The decision to provide property tax relief means that the sum Summit will need to raise through taxes will be $300,000 less for the 2019-20 school year. The decision to choose the third option was made by the Board of Education at the recommendation of Superintendent of Schools June Chang and Pepe. The money will not accrue interest.

Pepe said, “We’re still not receiving our fair share," adding that now, even with the number adjustment, Summit is receiving only about 75 percent of what it received 10 years ago. “We will continue to fight to be made whole on state aid,” he said.

About 30 percent of school districts, or 172 districts, will see a decrease in their state funding. This causes problems for the districts, as most were required to submit and approve their final budgets earlier in the school year, using preliminary and initial numbers to determine programs and staffing. These districts can make cuts or use money from surplus accounts, but they are not permitted to raise additional taxes to make up for the shortfall.

This link details the numbers for each school district in the state.  

After the meeting, Pepe said that while the state hopes to continue to increase aid over the next several years, it is not a given, and Summit will not include any potential increases when budgeting, but instead will project flat aid.  

Board Member Chris Bonner said that moving the funds into the 2019-20 budget gives the Summit District the “opportunity to plan and be thoughtful.” Pepe said, “After careful consideration of many factors, to include responsiveness to our greater community at large, we feel it prudent to designate the additional state aid for use in the 2019-2020 budget as ‘Assigned Fund Balance’."

In Morris County, state aid in Madison was projected at $1,246,395, but came in at $1,523,524, an increase of $277,129. Last week the Madison school board voted unanimously to designate the funds toward universal, Full-Day Kindergarten.  On its website, the district states, “It is the belief of the school district that full-day Kindergarten is in the best interest of all students by enabling educational rigor and equity during these critical years of our students’ cognitive growth. With these funds earmarked, the School Administration will be finalizing its proposal for full-day K to be included in the 2019-2020 budget.”

As for Summit using the funds to begin its own universal, free Full-Day Kindergarten program, Pepe said, “Full-day kindergarten was not a consideration as the District has already put extensive thought, deliberation and structure in developing a program that has worked for the past five years or more. It is not out intent as a Board or Administration to increase spending in the current year's budget 2018-19, that has not been approved by the Board of School Estimate."

At the May, 2018 Summit Board of Education meeting, Bonner said that the District can accommodate a universal Full-Day Kindergarten program without building any new facilities, a significant acknowledgement by the District, as much of the conversation about FDK over the past decade focused on the need for major, related facility construction.

Bonner said that based on Grade 1 enrollment over the past five years, the District anticipates that it would need to accommodate 312 students. With a projected class size of 21-23 students per class, 14 classrooms would be needed. The Jefferson Primary Center and the Wilson Primary Center would each be able to house seven classrooms, with just one classroom at Wilson needing “minimum retrofitting.” This configuration would allow a maximum of 336 students. Bonner said that the largest class ever was 327 students.

The District would need five new teachers, and would share aides between the classrooms.  

Superintendent June Chang, also at the May meeting, said that there will be much more discussion on FDK. In September, he plans to present “a fully-crafted plan,” with opportunity for community feedback at that time.