SUMMIT, NJ - In their respective first ever all-virtual meetings, both rescheduled from their original March 30 date due to technical difficulties that didn’t allow the public -- and some key participants -- to join, the Summit Board of Education (BOE) and the Summit Board of School Estimate (BOSE) approved the 2020-21 Summit Public School Budget of $76,020,638.

The BOSE is made up of two members of the Summit Board of Education (BOE) -- Operations Committee Chair Chris Bonner and Board President Vanessa Primack -- and two members of Summit Common Council -- Former Council President and Ward I Council Member, David Naidu, and Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan -- along with Summit Mayor Nora Radest, who votes only in case of a tie,

Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe said that the final budget had no changes, coming in .17 below the two-percent cap mandated by the state. The budget -- which is $66,872,641 net after anticipated revenues -- reflects an increase of 1.83 percent. This brings a tax levy of $105.70 per year for the average home assessed at $410,000. 

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Pepe said that the budget is about $109,000 under cap, and that will go toward banked cap for a future budget. 

The evening consisted of two separate meetings, both held via ZOOM call and shared live on YouTube. At its most populated time, 34 people were signed on to watch.

All members of both the BOE and BOSE and Summit Superintendent June Chang gave statements in support of the budget. 

Chang said that the budget had a lot for the District to be proud of, including the addition of a mental health professional.

BOE member Deb McCann said the budget shows great teamwork. She said that it is important to keep Summit affordable to its diverse community.

BOE member Mike Colon said that he is “pleased and impressed with the budget process.” He said that it is fiscally prudent, while meeting the needs of a diverse student body.

BOE member Peggy Wong said that she is pleased that the budget addresses social / emotional development. She said that she was glad that the additional state aid allowed the budget to come in below the cap and that they did not have to “make hard decisions.”

BOE member Josh Weinreich said that nothing in the budget is “taken for granted,” and that a lot of scrutiny goes into reviewing all programs and expenditures. “We spend where we need to spend to maintain the excellence expected in Summit,” he said.

BOE Vice President Donna Miller said the budget provides a well-rounded, inclusive education. She thanked the community for their support.

BOSE Member Councilman David Naidu asked if the vote should be delayed until the end of May. Pepe said that because Summit is a Type I school district, the protocol remains in place requiring this type of District to finalize about a month ahead of other Districts. 

Naidu also asked what happens if the state aid actually does not come through as promised or if taxpayers don’t pay their bills.

Pepe offered a few different solutions. He said that the health beneficiary pool has been doing well, and that the District may save $500,000 there. Any reserve, he said, would become property tax relief. He also said that the District has a two-percent fund balance which is about $1.3 million which could be used to “close the gap.” 

Summit Mayor Nora Radest added that 99 percent of Summit residents pay their taxes, “even in 2009.” 

BOSE Member Councilman Greg Vartan asked about money saved because of facilities closed and sports and co-curricular activities not happening. He asked if teachers, coaches, and supervisors would still be getting paid.

Pepe said that almost all districts were having these conversations as part of their collective bargaining discussions. Summit, he said, is working with the Board attorney and the human resources director.

He said that coaches have been working on training videos, and are being paid on the work that is being done. He is working with the athletic director because “kids on lockdown need activities.”  He said that teams have been meeting via the Zoom app, working on “preparation, planning, and strategy.”

Vartan asked about students who have been identified as needing mental health services. Has care continued or increased during this time, he asked. 

Chang said that the District is “doing the best that we can.” The schools are speaking with those students, he said, and resources are posted on the District website. The students and teachers are “very connected,” he said.

We closely monitor the needs of those students identified on a daily basis, he said.

“We’re working out of our element but doing the best that we can,” Chang said.

Radest said, “We are living in a very difficult time and flexibility is important for all of us,” she said.

“It begins with the principals and their teaching staff whose input is absolutely critical – they are the front line after all. We are fortunate to have Board members who understand that their constituents are the students and the taxpaying community they serve, and that they are working hard to address the needs of both groups. I am proud to support this budget because it directly aligns with the goals of the District. It maintains the excellent quality education our community expects and offers competitive salaries to our teachers. I am particularly proud of the increased focus on the mental health of our students and the continued programming in STEAM course work. The budget increase of 1.83% is below the allowable cap in the tax levy. Summit’s five-year average increase of .7% remains well below the average five-year rate of inflation of 1.7%, and well below the districts with whom we are compared.”

"Summit is a remarkable community, and I am buoyed by how we strive to take care of each other," Radest added. 

BOSE (and BOE) member Chris Bonner said that he “fully supports” the budget. He said that sometimes it seems “silly to argue over an artificial two percent mark.” He said that the highest percentage of budget dollars are put into classroom instruction.

He commended the teachers who are teaching their classes remotely, particularly those who have their own children at home.

“Hang in there and we’ll get through this,” he said.

He also thanked Pomptonian Food Services, who is making food available to students during the lockdown.

BOSE (and BOE President) Vanessa Primack said that creating a zero-based budget is “not for the faint of heart.” She said that this budget continues a “strong foundation of continuity and sustainability.”  

For the public comment portion of the meeting, the BOE pre-solicited questions from the community via email and social media. Pepe read the same two questions / comments at both meetings.

The first was from Former Board of Education President George Lucaci and it focused on the long break in in-person teaching mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it may have on students, particularly on those students who don’t have the technology at home required to keep up.

How has the budget been updated to support those students so next fall they don’t fall further behind, Lucaci asked.

Pepe answered that the budget includes $800,000 for technology leases which keeps up with the replacement of Chromebooks. He said that during the pandemic, Chromebooks have been offered to students in third grade.

Chang said that “summer slack” happens. He said that “touchpoints” in Learning Workshop have been increased from two to four, and that is still in place.

The budget was not impacted, he said.

The second comment was from Former Common Councilwoman Sandra Lizza who said that in this “time of crisis” that the Board should “review and prioritize” needs and approve a budget with a “zero percent increase in tax burden.”