SUMMIT, NJ - Steep cuts in state aid forced school districts to do more with less when calculating the 2010-2011 budget. For the upcoming school year, the Summit Public Schools alone lost 2.6 million dollars in state aid. Money tightened, pressure was on the Board to keep taxes low while optimizing education -- up-to-date facilities, qualified teachers, extracurricular expenses, supplies, all come at a high cost.
To help compensate, the Christie Administration has offered various application-based grants. Superintendent of Summit Schools, Dr. Nathan Parker, said, "Summit has been very assertive in applying for these funds while they are still available." Last week, the Summit Board of Education received $2,094,515 from the Regular Operating Districts facilities grant from the School Development Authority of the State of New Jersey.
"The grant has given us the financial assistance to make needed improvements in our community's largest investment, our school buildings," Board of Education Vice President Jack Lyness said. "These improvements to our roofs, boilers, windows, doors and locks are the kind of thing that easily get deferred when finances are tight."
Funded by the School Development Authority, the money will go to upgrading Summit High School's auditorium and to installing an emergency generator in the High School and the Middle School, replacing boilers in the Middle School, repairing windows at Franklin Elementary and for parking lot improvements at Lincoln Elementary.
Parker considers all of the projects necessary. "They concern the health and safety issues for students," he said. "This provides us the opportunity to make health and safety improvements while minimizing the impact on local taxpayers."
The total cost of repairs was initially estimated to be $5,236,287. Although the initial estimate indicates Summit would be responsible for $3,141,772, the estimate was set at a maximum cost.
Construction companies place bids on the maintenance. The company that places the lowest bid typically gets the job. "The residents will receive a high return on their money," Parker said. "The cost of construction is at a low point so more can be constructed for less money. In addition, the finance costs are historically lower than ever, again enabling the residents to finance more construction with a lower cost minimizing impact on property taxes."
Melanie Wilson, President of Speak Up Summit, is in support of the projects calling the grant money "surprising, welcoming news." Speak Up Summit is a group of local residents focused on being informed and vocal about government decisions.
Wilson believes that although Summit will need to raise 60% of the funds, the money will be well spent. "Summit could certainly stand to improve facilities," she said, "and in this economic environment, builders are eager for work, so the timing to find contractors to give reasonable bids are good. Also, many of the projects, such as windows and boilers, improve energy efficiency in the schools, and will generate long term savings, which helps justify the money Summit will be asked to raise."
According to Parker, bids are still being placed and costs are not finalized. When an exact estimate is calculated, "the city will approve an ordinance appropriating funds for school improvements and authorize the issuance of school bonds or notes to pay for the improvements," he said.
The costs for repairs are expected to have high returns: better, safer, more energy efficient facilities that save significant money in the long term.