SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Board of Education, at its January meeting, stated that it anticipates the 2020-21 Summit Public School District budget will -- for the second year running -- increase by more than the two-percent cap mandated by the state.

Board Operations Committee Chair Chris Bonner, in his committee report at the meeting, stated that many outside influences -- such as rising healthcare costs and salary negotiations -- are driving the increase. Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe gave a detailed presentation to the Board on the budget, but it focused on process and did not reveal details. 

When asked for comments after the Operations Committee report, former Board President Deb McCann, who was the lone dissenter in the 2019 vote to add an annual $1.5 million into the 2019-20 budget to fund the free, Full-Day Kindergarten program, asked whether the “appetite” of the community had been addressed. 

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McCann questioned what impact the increase would have on taxes, and whether there has been and will continue to be conversation about “what needs to be cut.”

“Are there discussions happening in the Operations Committee,” she asked.

McCann added that she was hoping that last year’s decision to exceed cap would be “one time.”

“Do we need to make these choices,” she asked. 

Bonner said that the Committee reviewed the base budget, and the overall goals were to sustain existing programs; continue with capital improvements; continue educational programming; plan for the teachers’ contracts; and predict health costs, all while finding opportunities for additional savings. 

“We predict going over the two percent cap and will show a detailed plan to show the drivers and what investments need to be made,” he said.

Bonner said, “Ultimately, everything is on the table.”

Pepe said that it is “more challenging” to come in under the two-percent cap. 

He said that the District is “very cognizant” of its fiscal responsibility. “We need to balance maintaining quality programming that the public has come to enjoy with efficiency,” he said.  “It is constantly a challenge and a rigorous process.”

Budget Presentation

A budget presentation, given earlier in the meeting by Pepe and Assistant Director of Education Tanya Lopez, reviewed the process, starting with the timeline:

  • The January Board meeting begins with the Operations Committee’s outlook.
  • The February Board meeting features a public discussion of key budget components.
  • After public presentations, a draft budget is presented in February, and the budget is approved tentatively in March.
  • The Board of School Estimate, after more public presentations and discussion, will vote on the final budget on March 23. 

The process, he said, hasn’t changed much. “We look at the needs; we gather information; and we put together a budget to meet the changing needs in a fiscally responsible way.”

Pepe said that there are a few key factors influencing the budget:

  • Staffing needs for current and proposed programs
  • Negotiations for new teachers, secretaries, and custodians’ contracts
  • Health-benefit renewals
  • Maintaining operational efficiency
  • Multi-year planning for program sustainability and tax impact stabilization

In terms of health-benefit renewal, Pepe said, “We have a pretty good track record.”

“We don’t settle for anything we feel we don’t deserve,” he said, illustrating the point with the District’s move from Cigna to Aetna that brought significant savings to the District

Pepe said that the two-percent cap balance “continues to be a budgeting concern.”

He said that the economy is improving, and, therefore, expenses are increasing. “We continue to seek opportunities to expand savings through operational efficiencies,” he said, adding that state aid and employee contributions for health benefits have stabilized.

Lopez discussed the specific opportunities the District’s spending has afforded Summit students. She looked at “improving existing programs, providing a well-rounded student experience, and the parent / community involvement.”   

She said that Summit schools are “always striving to do better and be more innovative as they prepare children for the world of the future.”

She reviewed District goals, and compared proficiency levels between Summit and the comparable communities of Livingston, Madison, Millburn, Ridgewood, and Westfield. 

Summit was near the top in math and ELA efficiency for grades 3-12, and for AP course enrollment. 

Board Vice President Donna Miller questioned the return on Summit taxpayer dollars, and asked if the City was getting value for its investment. She asked for comparables with other districts, and questioned if anyone is “doing more with less.”

“Are we getting value for the money we are spending,” Miller asked.

Pepe said that all the districts are “on a level playing field” as they are all up against the same two-percent cap on spending. 

“We are still out-performing or leading many of our peer districts,” he said.  “This is quite an accomplishment.”

Lopez  said that the partnerships the District has with community organizations like Summit Educational Foundation -- which has granted more than $5 million to the District for educational initiatives since its inception, PTOs, Boosters, SPARC, Summit Music Parents, and grants from the Gottesman Foundation and Summit Area Public Foundation (SAPF) allows the District to sustain “an excellent system of education by learning through partnerships and community and support groups.”

“Without them, we could not possibly do the work we do every day,” she said.

Pepe said, “These partnerships give us a competitive edge that a lot of other districts don’t have.”

Superintendent of Schools June Chang’s Departure

On January 14, the District announced that Superintendent June Chang, who arrived at the midpoint of the meeting, was resigning his position at the helm of Summit schools, effective at the end of the school year for “personal reasons.” 

Chang said that this “difficult decision” was driven by the “changing needs” of his family.

Board President Vanessa Primack said that now the Board has to perform its “most important role” in searching for a replacement. 

She said that input will be sought out from “all stakeholders.”

“We look forward to keeping you all involved and engaged in the process,” she said.

At the time Chang's resignation was announced Primack, in a letter to the community, stated that Board would "engage a firm to assist in the search for the next Superintendent," adding that, "the Board anticipates that the search process will involve input from all stakeholders to ensure the selection of a candidate who demonstrates a strong ability to partner with and serve as a cohesive and collaborative force in our community."

Mental Health Clinician

In the Education Committee Report, Chair Miller said that Director of Special Education Services Doreen Babis asked the committee to consider hiring a “clinician,” a consultant from Rutgers, who would give the Child Study team expertise and support to aid in students’ mental health issues. The Board approved retaining a consultant at $125 per hour through the end of the year, with a maximum of four hours per week

Miller said this would have no impact on the current budget. 

Babis said that the support will not be just for children in Special Education, but will be there to support all children who have been identified. Currently, she said there are 70 children, as identified by guidance and teachers, who would benefit. 

“We are dealing with an increase of mental health issues in the classroom,” Babis said.

Pepe clarified that special education grant money cannot be used for children who have not been classified as special ed students, but that the cost would “come out as a wash” because it would free up grant money.

Bonner said that the administration is looking to make the Mental Health Clinician a permanent position in the next budget. 

“This will support the social and emotional needs of all students and support special ed students who are currently sent out-of-district,” he said. 

He said that the position could “pay for itself” with the money that is recouped from the out-of-district placements. He said that keeping just one student in District could save $60,000.

“It totally makes sense to the Committee that we would go that route,” he said.

TAPinto Summit asked if a dollar figure could be assigned to the cost of staffing the role next year; Bonner said this will be determined in the budget process. 

Negotiations

Summit Schools labor attorney Tony Sciarrillo gave a presentation on the process by which the District comes to an agreement with the unions that represent the teachers, and the principals and supervisors. 

He discussed looking at issues, investigating expectations and results, salaries and health care, the actual format for the negotiations, the bargaining process, reaching a settlement, and what happens if a settlement cannot be reached -- mediators and “fact finders.” 

He said that the details of the negotiations are confidential and will not be discussed with the public.

“Don’t feel slighted,” Sciarrillo said. “Don’t expect a back-and-forth detail of what was discussed.” 

Class of 2020 National Merit Scholars

The 31 students who were named “scholar students” by the National Merit Scholarship program were recognized by the District. As is tradition, the students presented a favorite teacher or Summit Public School staff member who had "inspired/influenced them during their Summit educational experience," with a special book and personal inscription.

The Class of 2020 Summit High School National Merit Scholars, their selected educators and the books they choose to present include:

Katrina Lin -- Ms. Donat -- Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz

Hannah Mercurio -- Ms. Buettner -- Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Ryan Colon -- Mr. Leaman -- How Math Explains the World: A Guide to the Power of Numbers, from Car Repair to Modern Physics

Elizabeth Maloney -- Ms. McCauley -- Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Aaron Tobias -- Mr. Baragona -- Educated by Tara Westover

Ethan Zucker -- Monika Bartlett -- Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Julia Gangi -- Mrs. Friedman -- The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

Andrei Zhukov -- Mr. Baragona -- Brick By Brick 1,2,3

Sophie Zachara -- Ms. Flockhart -- Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Eric Baier -- TBD -- TBD

Christopher Taylor -- Ms. Stelmach -- The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

Matthew, Bronikowski -- Mr. Kostibos -- Belichick by Ian O'Connor

Beatrice Halper -- Mr. Rapp -- The Musician Says compiled by Benedetto LoBalbo

Stephanie Eliseo -- Mr. Field -- Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss

Kiana Yip -- Mr. Tobey -- Educated by Tara Westover

Carly Noble – Mr. Magdalenski -- Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Sarah McGhee -- Mrs. Garcia -- Personal History by Katharine Graham

Rebecca DelRosso -- Ms. Wells -- The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein

David Staub -- Mr. Schauer -- Rolling Stone - The 90's

Anna Forrest -- TBD -- TBD

Jeffrey Fowler -- Mrs. Bennett (LCJSMS) -- How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg

Ryan Shimek -- Mr. Morman -- Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

Jose Osorio -- Mrs. Hermo -- La Colmena by Camilo Jose Cela

Kevin Palphreyman -- TBD -- TBD

Zach Silberstein -- TBD -- TBD

Jack Quinn -- Ms. Lu -- A Brief History of China by Jonathan Clements

Elizabeth Offer -- Ms. Shue -- Doing Good Better by William Macaskill

Renee Hayford --Howarth -- Europe - The Lonely Planet Guide

Maggie Roemer -- Ms. Von Liebtag -- Jill Lepore - These Truths

Alex Supran -- Mr. Whiteside (LCJSMS) -- Lies My Teacher Told Me - James Loewen