SUMMIT, NJ - In a Summit Board of Education (BOE) meeting dominated by a review of the estimated budget impact of the Summit Public School District's proposed Universal, Free Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) program, the District also disclosed that additional swastikas have been found at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School (LCJSMS).

Full-Day Kindergarten

While the proposed Full-Day Kindergarten program has several hurdles yet to clear before it can gain approval and be implemented, June Chang, Superintendent of Schools, and Assistant Superintendent for Business, Lou Pepe. presented the Board with the program's projected 2019-20 budget impact.

Sign Up for E-News

During February, the Operations Committee, chaired by Board Member Chris Bonner, will meet and continue to discuss key components, goals, and overall impact of budgeted items. The full Board will hear presentations on more budget areas, such as curriculum, athletics, and special education.

In March, the Board of School Estimate (BOSE) will hear a budget presentation by the BOE. After more public presentations and discussions, the BOE will vote on the final budget. On March 25, the BOSE meets for a final public hearing and approval vote.  

Chang and Pepe outlined some key overall budget drivers, such as maintaining competitive salaries, health benefits, operations efficiencies, multi-year planning for quality sustainability and the stabilization of tax impact, but the bulk of the presentation and discussion that followed was FDK-related.

This was the first of several meetings detailing aspects of the 2019-20 school budget. Conversations about FDK and other budget drivers will continue through the eventual Board voting in March.

The overall FDK program is estimated to cost $1.5 million annually, which includes a $736,450 loss of revenue from the current tuition-based program. About $400,000 of those dollars, however, will not create an impact for taxpayers as they are already being paid out in the current teacher salaries.

Chang said, “Retaining fresh talent that we have already invested in and trained in District expectations, culture, and practices reduces the initial impact of $1.5 million to $1.1 million.”

Pepe said that the net amount will have a 1.8 percent impact on the budget.

With current enrollment projections, the district expects to add four teachers at $260,000 and five aides at $177,735.

The Board allowed questions and comments from the public immediately following the budget presentation.

Barbara Stuke, a parent who no longer has children in the Summit public schools, asked whether larger enrollments would mean more class sections would need to be added. She also asked if 24 students was too many to have in a kindergarten class.

Chang said that the current full-day classes have 23 students. “We are prepared in our projections to take in 312 students,” he said.  He said that another class could be added if necessary.

Tiffany Jones asked why the program was being looked at now and asked if there was a deficiency noted through testing or otherwise.

Chang said, “We are looking at the whole spectrum, not just high school or middle school, but at opportunities for all kids. We want to prepare student at every stage; the opportunity to provide for the youngest learners is just as important as AP classes,” he said. “We look to be as great as we can be.”

Jones asked if the program will be viable over the next five to 10 years.

“Has the algorithm proved sustainable,” she asked, “Or will there be a need for it to be cut.”

Chang said that long ago he publicly stated that he would never suggest the implementation of a program if he did not think it was sustainable.

Pepe said, “Once it is in the budget, it becomes part of the base budget. In the future, you can’t turn around and take it out. The Board of Education determines every year if they want to retain programs.”  The same discussion can be had about athletics and music, he said.

Former Board of Education Member James Freeman asked what are the academic benefits of FDK.

Chang said that although most of the data is qualitative, students entering first grade after completing a Full-Day program are better prepared.

Parent Paola Acosta said, “A lot of ingredients come into the mix. With Full-Day Kindergarten there is more proof that it can be beneficial. Why not take that leap and then fine tune it.”

“Summit has earned the reputation of knowing what’s best for students,” she said.  

Board President Debra McCann said that more than 90 percent of students entering Summit’s first grade have gone through a full-day kindergarten program.

Lisa Allen asked if there was a survey done for the community through which parents could  “weigh in” with their opinions.

Chang said that the District has been “flooded with emails”, and a survey had been done by an outside group.

“It would be a nice gesture to the community,” Allen said.

Pepe said,”Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that this is happening.” He said that the public presentations that have been made at Board meetings have been posted on the District's web site.

In the public comments section at the end of the meeting, more public comment on FDK ensued.

Former City Councilman Tom Getzendanner, who has expressed his support of retaining the current tuition-based program, said, “Aside from the efficacy of FDK, which can’t be proven in ‘high-performing districts’ like Summit, there are five compelling business reasons why an ‘optional’ approach is the right compromise.” He said that this program is irreversible; state aid is unreliable; two-thirds of taxpayers don’t use the public schools; property taxes are no longer fully deductible; and the Bristol-Meyers merger threatens ratables.  

Parent Rachel Brennan’s comments focused on the equitability of running a lottery-based system.  

“The current system is inherently and undeniably not equal,” she said.  She said the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome forces some parents in making decisions they would not have to make about their children’s kindergarten education with a universal, free program in place.  

Vickie Freeman, wife of James Freeman, discussed “new developments.”  She cited a study that, she says, shows “no academic argument” for FDK.

The study, she said, points to increased ADHD diagnoses for students who enter school too early. She said that in these many months of discussions she has not heard anyone argue for the academic benefits of a FDK program.  “Where is the hard data on that,” she said.

She said that the half-day program does an “excellent job," adding, “I have seen no evidence that there is a problem with the current system that needs to be solved."  

“The role of the Summit schools is not to provide free childcare to Summit kids,” she said.  

She focused on the increased tax burden on Summit’s middle class families.

James Freeman asked why many of the “top one percent earners in America” should have their child care services “subsidized” by the middle class. He said that much of the proposed day has evolved into “non-academic services.”

He said that people are “fleeing New Jersey” because of its high taxes. “Please reconsider,” he said.

Former Board of Education President Celia Colbert said that the need for FDK is about more than “a test score.”  She said that when educational leaders say that they see the benefit in FDK, “that matters.”

“People who are the most qualified” want FDK for the best education for kids, whether they are “poor, one percent, or zero percent.” She added that FDK is “all over the country” so people aren’t moving successfully to places without it.

“We can’t solve the world’s problems, but we can bring FDK to our kids,” she said.

In terms of next steps, Pepe said that with FDK causing a 1.8 percent budget increase, he “guarantees that the budget will not come in under two percent.” He said that “everything else is coming in well.”  Ratables have a “nice increase” this year, health benefits and attrition looks good, he said.  

“We should be in a pretty good position,” he said.

Swastika Update

Stating that it was "in the best interest of the investigations to refrain from broadly communicating about additional incidents should they occur," Chang last month said that the District would cease providing real-time disclosure of swastikas or other hate symbols found in the schools.

In keeping with that communications approach, Chang told the assembled crowd that -- after thorough searches -- two additional swastikas were found at LCJSMS, one on the back of a chair in a classroom and the other on a wall in another classroom.

“They were small,” said McCann, “About an inch long.”

Chang added that he did not know how long they had been there.

Chang said that the District is “still in the process of training” pertaining to how to have effective discussions on race and tolerance. He said that he is working on partnerships with outside agencies to facilitate this.  

Director of Education Jennifer McCann presented follow up on the 'Day of Unity and Kindness'.

She said that various things have been implemented at each school / level:

  • At the elementary schools, she said, the “Take a Stand” curriculum continues.  This was written by guidance counselors.
  • Advisory at LCJSMS continues to brooch these topics, but feedback on the students’ perception has been filtered in to improve the programs.
  • Summit High School students have become increasingly involved. Students in Holocaust and Genocide Studies elective class asked if they could meet with students at LCJSMS following this week’s Holocaust survivors assembly. She said that the students facilitated and ran the program.

“They want it led by themselves, not by the staff,” she said.

Jennifer McCann said that the District is working with the Anti-Defamation League and the Interfaith Council and will be offering parent presentations during the next month. Professional development and student programs will continue to address the problem. She said that the District is “committed” to this.

Education Committee

In her monthly report, Chair Vanessa Primack gave an update on the tuition-based FDK program. Deposits have been collected, as the program is still in place until any formal changes have been made to its format. Currently, there are five sections at Wilson and three at Jefferson.

She said that a three-year initiative at LCJSMS is looking at the “culture and climate” of the school, with years two and three funded by a grant from the Summit Educational Foundation.  

“They are looking at things at a much more granular level,” she said. Primack said that they are surveying staff and students and “taking a closer look” at areas to strengthen and opportunities for development.

“Nothing was really that bad with the middle school,” she said.  

Cycle classes have been revamped for next year, and new offerings include Civil Discourse, Digital Art, and the exploration of an independent study program. Some of the skills these classes will foster will be active listening, developing persuasive verbal skills, and making students “savvy consumers.”

Operations

Bonner said that the athletic budget has been stable at about $1 million for the last ten years. Next year, the plan is to increase by $4,171 over last year with the addition of a girls freshman volleyball team.  

He said that he does not see any major capital expenditures or facilities costs looming.

Chang on Change

Chang, during his budget presentation, stressed “embracing change” as a key component of a student’s ability to succeed, and preparing teachers “to take on the challenges of change that’s coming” is critical.

“Change is a constant,” he said.

This change include global competition, new technology, and raising the bar. “Information retention is no longer the differentiator for success,” he said.

National Merit Scholars

Twenty-seven students who were named “scholar students” by the National Merit Scholarship program were recognized by the District. As is tradition, the students were joined by a Summit Public Schools staff member who had "inspired/influenced them during their Summit educational experience," with each scholar presenting her / his honored guest with a special book and personal inscription.

The Class of 2019 Summit High School National Merit Scholars and their selected, special guests are:

William Alaric-Nilsen presented Gary Burns with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Daniella Alonso presented Bill O’Regan with What Teachers Make

Abigail Brandt presented Irina Itriyeva with I’d Rather Be Reading

Nick Clements presented John Kratch with Presidents of War

Cooper Daley presented Elizabeth Berberich with Brick History: A History of the World in Lego

Jane DiSibio presented Randy Wallock with Educated

Deacon Donaldson presented Adam Leaman with How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

Nicholas Hausman presented Neal Sharma with The Pearl

Emily Kane presented Jeremy Morman with The Pope of Physics: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age

Andrew Kelser presented Dan Cummings with Circe

Yulia Kuzniar presented Asha Von Liebtag with Choucas

Gabby Lau presented Scott Petrillo with Joyful

Kelsey Lee presented Steve Andrews with Excess of Being

Sabrina Li presented Michael Magdalenski with The Overstory

Sophie Li presented Andrea Laquerre with Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past

Liz Liss presented Isaac Welsh with Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

William Lusty presented Eric Fontes with Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Samuel Malnati presented Peter Koppenaal with The Joy of Pi

Alexander McDonald presented Corey Walsh with My Early Life

Katie Monaghan presented Tom O’Dowd with Water

Chloe Proshuto presented Monika Bartlett with I Wish I Knew That

Tessa Pulgar presented Christine Stelmach with The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

Will Stern presented David Howarth with How to Behave Badly In Elizabethan England

Filip Vizitiu presented Alex Bocchino with Flowers for Algernon

Patrick Murray, who will honor teacher Stephen Rapp with Year of Wonder

Henry Walsh, who will honor teacher Kyle Dattola with Don’t Put Me In, Coach

Marcos Canavosio