SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Public School District will close out its fiscal year with a net surplus of more than $2 million because of money not spent during the COVID-19 shutdown, the bulk of the savings coming via personnel-related areas: specifically staffing -- not using substitute teachers or paying overtime costs -- and funds not spent through AETNA for medical reasons.

The $2.5 million total windfall in savings is partially mitigated by a $300,000 reduction in state funding the District had expected but which was lost when the state slashed a total of $335 million from its budget last month due to the pandemic. 

Speaking at the June Board of Education meeting, Michael Colon, the new chair of the Operating Committee, said, “We are closing out the year with a budget variance," before adding that the District “needs to be prudent with the balance.” 

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He said that a “spending spree” will not take place, rather the money will be used to “accelerate purchase orders” for the 2020-21 budget which will, in turn, free up budget dollars.

This will include new Chromebooks, Chromebook repair, a fencing project, and upgrades to the telephone system. 

Colon said that nothing that had not been previously approved in the budget would be purchased at this time.

Black Lives Matter

Board President Donna Miller, in her president's report, discussed recent 'Black Lives Matter' protests in the District, looked at the efficacy of home learning, updated information on the superintendent search, and discussed teacher contracts. 

She said that the Board “echoes the words”of Acting Superintendent Robert Gardella who, in a letter to the community on the anti-racism movement, said,”We emphatically state that the Summit School District unequivocally condemns racism, hatred and injustice.” 

Miller said that the Board will do its part to work with the community to turn “intentions to actions.” She said that the District will not remain silent. “We’ll do our part,” she said.

“We’re a school district. Our role is to educate the next generation,” Miller said. “As a district we’ll reflect, listen, learn, talk and take actions that make our district that much better for our students and their future.”

She commended the students in the District who organized the recent community-wide protest and march which began at LCJSMS. 

“Our young people give us hope,” she said. “Some stand up and speak out; some think and reflect. All ask us to create a better world. And we will. Together.”

Superintendent Search

Miller said that the search is “entering its final phases,” and there may be an identified superintendent to present in July.

“It’s been a lot of work to get to this point,” she said.

Teacher Contract Negotiations Update

The Board and the SEA reached a one-year contract for the upcoming 2020-21 school year, which provides for a 2.9 percent salary increase. Because of scheduling difficulties during the Coronavirus shutdown, the negotiations committee and the SEA are not looking to find additional dates for discussion at this time, due to the  “disruption and stressors of Coronavirus,” Miller said. 

She said, “The school closure, stay-at-home orders, and the impact of remote learning on daily lives” makes it “too challenging” to continue conversations about the terms and conditions of employment. She said that while the negotiations committee was “ready to meet” with SEA reps and had “full confidence” that a full three-year settlement could be reached, the SEA “remained concerned.”  

Therefore, she said, additional discussions will be put off until October. This, she said, is occurring in neighboring districts as well. 

Remote Learning

On the success of remote learning, Miller said that while she is pleased with the speed with which the District was able to move to online learning, including the ability to ensure that each student had internet access and a Chromebook, and with the coordination with Pomptonian, the District food service provider, to ensure that each Summit child under 18 who suffers from food insecurity had access to breakfast and lunch, the online learning experience did not lead to student achievement. 

Miller said, “We know that our remote learning has been imperfect.” She acknowledged that remote learning is no substitute for in-class learning, and promised improvement.

“We recognize that there are a multitude of  enhancements that can, should, and will be made to the delivery of instruction when teachers and students are not together in the same room.  Clearer standards, enhanced consistency and better more universally understood remote learning protocols are required--to name just a few,” she said.

She said that the Board of Education “will do everything we can to provide the resources needed to improve remote delivery of instruction should we need it in the future.”  

Miller said, “We know Summit deserves the best and is capable of the best. And, we will make that happen, so that students can achieve whether they are in a live classroom, or a remote one.”

Superintendent's Report

Gardella, in his superintendent’s report, added that counselors and other school resources are available to help “advance” the anti-racism conversation in the school community. 

He said that the principals of Summit High School and LCJSMS had written to 8th and 12th grade parents, allowing them to weigh in on preferences for in-person graduation. He said that new state guidance “raised optimism” for in-person graduation ceremonies, but asked for patience as the District “firms up plans.”

Plans for a return to school in September are also underway, with three possible scenarios:

  • A “typical” return to school

  • A continuance of full-remote learning

  • A hybrid scenario

He said these three scenarios were explored in a letter that went out to District school families earlier in the week. 

Gardella introduced Evan Kozak, the new principal of the Wilson and Jefferson Primary Centers. Kozak will replace Pamela Southard, When asked by TAPinto Summit for the circumstances surrounding Southard's departure, District Communications Officer Laurene Callander said via email, "personnel matters in the district are confidential."

According to Gardella, who is also the District's full-time human resources director, Kozak has experience as a kindergarten teacher, an assistant principal, an interim principal, and in special education.

Committee Reports

Education Committee Chair Peggy Wong said that since there was no CogAT test given this year, the District would be using different criteria to determine which students will be entered into the IDEAS program. 

In the Operations Committee report, Colon also said that plans are being made for the buildings to be ready for students and staff in September, including getting PPE supplies. The Summit High School roof repair project is on schedule, he said, as are energy efficiency and HVAC projects. He said that continuing food distribution into the summer for food-unstable children in the District is being explored. 

Chris Bonner, the Policy Committee chair, discussed policies involving the school year calendar and the length of the school day, and self-medication. 

In the public comment portion of the meeting, he added a comment on what school might look like in September.

“It’s all complicated and dynamic,” Bonner said.

He said that each school in the District and in the state, because of their layout and capacity, will have a different formula for dealing with the distancing issue.

Miller reiterated that opening is a state decision, not a District decision.

“We await the decisions, and we act upon them,” she said.

Gardella added, “We prepare for a multitude of scenarios, anticipating the guidance.” He said that he “heard” that a decision may come from the state by the end of June.’

End-of-Academic-Year Honors

The June meeting, coming just prior to the conclusion of the academic year, traditionally honors retirees, celebrates those teachers chosen as 'Union County Teachers of the Year' and recognizes the community organizations that partner with the District. 

While honorees could not be present at the virtual meeting, which was once again held via Zoom, their contributions were detailed. 

Gardella read a blurb about each teacher. Throughout the introductions, descriptions included passion, kindness, legacy, faithful, cheerleader, heart, smile, calm, team player, wealth of Summit knowledge, and advocacy for students.

The retiring teachers include:

Kathleen Lyons, Grade 2 teacher, Jefferson Elementary School

William Hogan, Grade 8 mathematics teacher, Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School

William Sanchez, world language teacher, Brayton Elementary School

Monica Cattano, school nurse, District school nurse coordinator, Wilson Primary Center School 

JoAnn Mendl, IDEAS teacher, Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary School

Christine Rizzo, secretary, Central Office

Gary Burns, English Language Arts teacher, Grade 8, Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School

Ricardo Sanchez, custodian, Summit High School

John Mazza,custodian, Franklin Elementary School

Salvatore Errante, custodian, Summit Public Schools

Patricia Walsh, transition coordinator, Summit High School

Aurora Hermo, Spanish teacher, Summit High School

Mary Doran, inclusion aide, Jefferson Elementary School

Joy Stopol, speech and language specialist, Jefferson Primary Center, Jefferson Elementary School

Gardella said, “This is a talented and dedicated group.”

Wong introduced the 'Union County Teachers of the Year', saying they are “effective and innovative in their instructional strategies,” while also noting the “passion, commitment, and energy” they bring to the District.

They are:

Anne Paris, Pre-K and Kindergarten teacher, Wilson Primary Center, Jefferson Primary Center

Matt Stanbro, fourth grade teacher Brayton Elementary School

Laura Burr, physical education teacher, Franklin Elementary School

Diane Dreisbach, Special Education teacher, Jefferson Elementary School

Emily Cooper, Special Education teacher, Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary School

Jessica O’Connor, Learning Workshop, Washington Elementary School

Danielle DeGraw, physical education teacher, Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School

John Kratch, social studies teacher, Summit High School

Gardella said that clocks were sent to the homes of the retiring teachers as recognition, and Board President Donna Miller said the 'Union County Teachers of the Year' had flowers sent to their homes.

Miller added, “We love you; we applaud you; we hope you enjoyed your flowers.”

Board member Yon Cho said that “Every school district relies on community partnerships,” as he recognized the following organizations that he said play an “integral” role in contributing to the District goals. 

The recognized Summit community groups are:

Pomptonian Food Services

Summit YMCA

The Connection

G.R.A.C.E.

Shaping Summit Together

PEP Summit

Special Education Parents Advisory Committee

PTO Presidents’ Council

Summit Educational Foundation

Speak Up Summit

Summit African American Action Association (S4A)

Summit Performing Arts Resource Committee (SPARC)

Summit Music Parents Association (SMPA)

Summit Boosters Association

Summit Foundation

CHAT por Summit

Summit Free Public Library

Summit Police Department