Minds Versus Financial Matters: Budget Overview Illustrates Tension Between Summit Public Schools Educational Goals, Property Taxes, and State Aid

Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe and Superintendent of Schools June Chang led a budget presentation at the Board of Education workshop session. Credits: Summit Public Schools Photo Services

SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Board of Education, at its first workshop meeting of 2017, was given a rundown of the budget process by Superintendent of Schools, June Chang, and Lou Pepe, Assistant Superintendent for Business.

As stated by Pepe, the major objective of the District is to “deliver a quality educational program with measurable results while keeping property taxes stable and home values strong.” Pepe and Chang noted that of an approximately $66.4 million budget, $4.6 million would come from other revenues, and $61.8 million would come from taxes.

In order to keep local property taxes in check while producing a high quality education, they noted, the District looks for innovative ways to deliver top-of-the-line instruction while keeping costs under control. The pair also noted that school property taxes increases have been kept under one percent over the last several years in Summit.

Sign Up for E-News

Chang noted the Hilltop City schools are seeking ways to reallocate staff and resources, evaluating the effects of their programs and practices and adjusting where needed, yet seeking more areas that will allow students to express their interests such as increasing Advanced Placement course offerings and instituting more clubs to appeal to a diversity of interests.

He added the District is utilizing methods advocated by IXL Learning, which provides analytical tools to help track student and classroom performance and identify areas for academic improvement. The methods advocated, he noted, measure data growth over time, emphasize expanded program offerings and offer innovative opportunities such as those obtained through those increased advanced placement offerings.

The superintendent said data shows that 97.6 percent of students have demonstrated growth through use of IXL methods.

Another area where Summit students have demonstrated excellent outcomes, Chang said, is in the PARCC assessments, where they have consistently outperformed their peers in other PARCC consortium districts around the nation.

One of the methods Summit utilizes, he added, is “guiding advanced placement and SAT trends” through supportive programs to better prepare students for testing in the two areas. A second method is through enhanced differentiation in instruction. Chang noted.

Another major component is the integration of new technologies into the classroom wherever possible, the educator said. Many of the innovations are made possible, according to Pepe, through savings such as reallocation of personnel through attrition, renegotiation of contracts for such items as emphasizing professional development, signing agreements that save on energy procurement, and being careful in labor agreements and collective bargaining.

Another area of savings, according to the assistant superintendent for business, is the the elimination of outside energy consultants and doing much of this work “in-house.”

Also, instruction has improved by investing in a curriculum focus by adding key personnel in the primary and secondary schools, updating and revising instruction from pre-k to 12th grade, and better meeting students’ emotional needs through mindset programs and use of student assistance counselors.

Additionally, he noted, the District obtains a great deal of revenue and innovative instructional programs by reliance on such community groups at the Summit Educational Foundation (SEF), Summit Performing Arts Resource Committee (SPARC) and other parent-and-community-supported organizations.

The future, according to Chang, will include implementation of new courses to increase honors offerings, enhanced language arts instruction in kindergarten to fifth grades, and more opportunities for students to translate learning to experience.

He noted this already is being done through partnerships with business organizations outside the schools, a number of field trip experiences, and such innovations as virtual learning.

Pepe added, however, that the District faces a number of challenges in the 2017-18 budget.

These include negotiation of a new contract with the Summit Education Association (SEA) and the increasing costs of health insurance for employees.

The business administrator noted that, while the passage of Chapter 78 in New Jersey about five years ago brought mandated employee funding of a portion of educators’ health benefits, Summit was “ahead of the curve” by mandating employee funding before the law was passed.

However, Pepe added, Chapter 78 will be fully funded this year, and this will contribute to pressures on District healthcare costs. In addition to rising healthcare costs, he said, there always is the possibility that state aid could be decreased or eliminated entirely as it was several years ago.

If this should become a reality, according to Pepe, the District would have to take a careful look at how to find savings in other areas and prioritize its most valuable assets and programs while looking for alternative methods of funding.

Resident Michael Wattick pointed out, however, that Governor Chris Christie has proposed changing the state educational funding formula to give every student in New Jersey the exact same amount of aid. The new formula calls for a flat $6,599 per student school aid system, replacing the current system in which each district is awarded different amounts. It is estimated Summit schools could gain more than $24 million additional in aid, according to Wattick.

In addition, he noted that New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney is seeking to form a commission to find another alternative to the current school funding formula.

Pepe said the state school business administrators association, where he is an official, has heard nothing specific about either proposal and they are telling their colleagues to count on keeping state aid figures for the coming year “flat” in their budgets.

Pepe added that, while he would welcome the extra revenue, it could create a “one-year revenue windfall,” which would run into the limitations of the 2 percent state cap on spending, causing a temporary large decrease in taxes one year followed by a large increase the following year.

He noted the only way this probably could be avoided is if every school district in the state received a cap waiver.

Wattick asked the Summit school officials, however, how best to effectively lobby for passage of an alternative to the current funding formula, which many suburban school officials say unfairly targets their districts to provide more funding to chiefly urban districts.

Chang and Pepe replied that residents should urge their legislators to work for changes in the funding formula.

On another matter, Chang and Laura Kaplan, District harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) coordinator, gave a rundown of HIB and violence incidents in the Summit schools for the last six-month reporting period.

In response to the report, resident Tara Willecke of 23 Mountain Avenue, asked a number of specific questions about the procedures City school officials followed in reporting incidents of alleged physical and sexual abuse between students, dealing with the alleged offenders, protecting the reported victims, the reporting of such incidents, and Chang's role in he process.

Chang generally replied that the teachers should be the first line of defense in dealing with allegations in their classrooms, and should make sure the allegations are brought to the attention of building principals, when it is appropriate to do so.

He added that, in rare instances, when principals believed circumstances required it, is he asked to intervene in such matters.

The superintendent said school officials had to remember “we are dealing with children” and educators should aim in such instances to make sure solutions are in the best educational interests of all children involved.

He also told Willecke that parents and, in fact, anyone who is aware of such incidents, could inform the state Division of Youth and Family Services of the incidents.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Upcoming Events


Fri, March 23, 8:00 PM

17 Kent Place Boulevard, Summit

Open Mic Night

Arts & Entertainment


Sat, March 24, 2:00 PM

Summit Free Public Library, Summit

Gr. K-5: Saturday Serendipity

Arts & Entertainment Education

Summit Fire Department Blotter

01/01/2018 9:26 am     FD dispatched to a motor vehicle accident, car vs. pole in front of 196 GLENSIDE AVENUE.  On arrival occupant was out of the vehicle.  Summit EMS assumed patient contact. FD made notification to the power company to make repairs.  Summit PD remained on scene for traffic control and road closure until repairs were made.

01/02/2018 7:36 pm ...

Summit Police Blotter

March 12, 2018

3/3 - Daniel T. Lipkin, 20, of Millington was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia and possession of an alcoholic beverage under legal age. Mr. Lipkin was processed and released with a pending court date.

3/3 - Taurino Alday-Benitez, 28, of Summit was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. Mr. Alday-Benitez was processed and released with ...

Discover Your Inner Ballet Dancer at 'The Y'

March 22, 2018


This 8-WEEK class will be focusing on the classical technique of ballet in a fun and easy to understand manner. You can expect a full ballet class experience from working at the ballet barre, to leaping across the floor! No experience is necessary to participate. Easy to move in clothes, and socks or ballet shoes are recommended.


Coping with Behavioral Changes in Alzheimer's Disease Information Session Apr. 3

Behavioral changes in Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can pose concerns for family caregivers. As the disease progresses, behavior often becomes the primary way people with the disease communicate their needs.

Learn why people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia experience behavior changes, what those behaviors mean, and how to cope when ...

Financially Savvy Charitable Giving: Donor-Advised Funds

Americans are known to be philanthropic, with an estimated 83% donating to charitable causes. Making the donation convenient and tax-effective is a win-win for both charities and those with a generous heart. Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are a simplistic funding structure available to those with both small and large charitable giving pots.  

Mechanics of Donor Funds

DAFs can be set up ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 13

On this episode of AtlantiCast, new clinical studies in the fields of cardiology and immunotherapy, national and statewide recognitions for Atlantic Health System medical centers and the inaugural AtlantiCast Collab Challenge!


Coffee, Tea or Fleas?

Two ducks are on a flight to Miami.  The first duck says to the second, “you flying south for the winter?”  The second duck replies, “Oh wow, a talking emotional support duck!”


Pa rum pum.


There have been a lot of news stories lately about animals traveling on airplanes.  Some are humorous, like the woman who recently tried to bring ...

Learn a Language @ Your Library

Anyone can learn a language at the Summit Free Public Library!

Did you know that the Summit Library has a subscription to Muzzy Club? Funded by a grant from the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Muzzy Club is an online resource that allows Summit Library cardholders of all ages to learn a new language. Languages in Muzzy Club include British and American English, Spanish, ...