SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Board of Education, at its regular meeting for February, gave unanimous approval to a $68,662,941 spending plan for the 2017-18 school year.

The budget, which awaits state aid figures to gain official status, was approved by the City school board via what board officials called a “straw vote.”

The spending plan includes a $64,028,215 property tax impact, which, if state aid figures hold “flat” to last year’s figures, would result in a tax levy increase of 1.68 percent, according to school officials.

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Although Governor Chris Christie has proposed allocating an equal amount of per-pupil state aid for all New Jersey school districts and legislative leaders also are studying changes in the state aid allocation formula, it is not believed at this juncture that any of the changes will be implemented in time for the 2017-18 school budget cycle.

Therefore, most state school officials are counting on state aid remaining “flat” for 2017-18.

Currently the so-called “Abbott Districts” -- in less socially and economically-advanced areas -- are, according to state Supreme Court decisions, allocated greater amounts of state aid aimed at helping students in those areas achieve better academic progress.

According to a presentation given by Superintendent of Schools June Chang and Assistant Superintendent for Business Louis Pepe at the board’s February workshop session, the proposed 2017-18 Summit budget will:

  • Maintain programs and positions in line with the district focus areas;
  • Add additional support and expand opportunities in curriculum, guidance and technology, and:
  • Meet salary and benefits demands along with increased costs.

Board operations committee chairman Richard Hanley, at February’s regular meeting, noted that the proposed local budget plan includes $149,000 in curriculum, $186,000 for new positions, $147,000 for technology, $95,000 for other expenditures and $645,000 for staff health benefits, for an overall increase of 1.3 million for the proposed budget.

Hanley added that $200,000 in savings during the health benefits renewal process last year enabled the board to add the following positions that will be maintained in the upcoming school year:

  • A coordinator for the virtual high school program, instructional facilitator and technology coach
  • A literacy coach
  • Two directors -- one at each of the academic levels of district schools
  • A student assistance counselor at the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School
  • Additions to the special education staff.

New positions being added for 2017-18 include:

  • A second grade teacher at Franklin School -- $89,000
  • A half science teacher position at Summit High School due to the popularity of the psychology program -- $32,500
  • Two half-time basic skills instruction teachers at the ES Learning Workshop -- $65,000

Curriculum additions include:

  • Student textbooks and teacher resources, including those in the math and science areas -- $87,170
  • Supplies and materials -- $31,887
  • Curriculum writing and problem-based learning designs -- $25,230
  • Professional development and staff for IT -- $5,445.

The draft budget presentation also noted that, because health benefits renewals produced $900,000 in savings after last year’s budget was approved, $644,000 was available for purchase of technology equipment and supplies, including:

  • $546,000 for equipment purchases, including $213,580 for Chromebooks to be used in the 1:1 Initiative
  • $306,025 for software
  • $187,950 for maintenance, contracts and professional services
  • $99,422 for supplies

The school officials added the 1:1 Initiative is enabling District schools to remove a number of desktop computers from classrooms and that should continue in the future.

In addition to the above, the presentation noted that expenditures on performing and professional arts programs increased from $351,993 during the 2013-14 school year to $485,218 projected during the 2017-18 school year.

Board president David Dietze announced at the February regular meeting that an initial presentation on the budget will be presented at a special meeting of the Summit Board of School Estimate on Thursday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Summit High School Media Center.

In Summit, the Board of School Estimate makes the final local decision on the proposed school budget. This year, the school estimate board is chaired by Mayor Nora Radest. Dietze and Hanley represent the Board of Education on that body, and the Common Council is represented by Council finance chairman Steven Bowman and Ward I Councilman Robert Rubino.

Dietze also announced that the school estimate board will vote on the proposed budget on Tuesday, March 28 at 7 p.m., preceded by a school board special meeting on the budget at 6:30 p.m. Both of these meetings will be held in the Common Council Chambers at Summit's City Hall.

In a report on a second matter at the Board’s regular February meeting, Chang and Elementary Education Director Jennifer Ambrose pointed to mid-year progress of students and staff in meeting the 2016-17 District goals.

The first goal was to see an increase in the percentage of student taking AP and SAT test and increasing the mean scores, with a three-year goal of attaining a “significant and meaningful improvement” in these areas in 2016-17 over 2013-14.

Figures available thus far should the following percentages of eligible students taking AP tests:

  • 2013-14 -- 68 percent
  • 2014-15 -- 71 percent
  • 2015-16 -- 68 percent

Percentages of eligible students taking SAT tests:

2013-14 -- 96 percent

2014-15 -- 98 percent

2015-16 -- 93 percent

The percentages of students scoring 3 or better in AP tests:

2013-14 -- 91.9

2014-15 -- 92.5

2015-16 -- 90.8

In SAT tests of critical reading skills the following scores were seen:

In 2015-16—573 for Summit, 495 for the state

In 2014-15—578 for Summit, 495 for the state

SAT tests of math skills:

In 2015-16 -- 589 for Summit, 512 for the state

In 2014-15 -- 602 for Summit, 518 for the state

The superintendent of schools noted during the presentation at the February regular board meeting that the SAT test was changed during the second half of 2015. Therefore, both state and local students scored somewhat lower when adapting to the new test.

Another of the District goals is to develop in students a love of learning through continuous professional development of teachers.

Thus far, this has been accomplished through the development of a digital resource center that is updated four times a year with updated resources, including content-specific professional literature and use of Google Classroom along with access to Massachusetts Institute of Technology online courses.

Another goal is to show continuous academic growth and improved student performance as measured by IXL. IXL Learning is an American educational technology company that offers an educational website for K-12 students to practice educational material. It offers content for math, English language arts, science, and social studies.

According to statistics presented by Chang and Ambrose at the February regular meeting:

  • During 2015-16, 97.6 percent of fifth graders showed growth in language arts skills
  • During 2016-17, 89.3 percent of those students, now in the sixth grade, showed growth in language arts skills.
  • During 2016-17, 89.9 percent of students then in the fifth grade showed growth in language arts skills.
  • During 2016-17, 98.7 percent of students in the eight grade showed growth in math skills.

Chang said the somewhat lower growth percentage in the sixth graders during 2016-17 year in language arts schools may have been attributed to attending school in a new building -- the middle school -- and the accompanying socialization that goes with that environment and changed academic schedules.

Copies of the complete presentations on both the budget and the district goals can be found on the District’s website.