Summit preps for kindergarten within day of budget OK

SUMMIT, NJ — Registration has already begun for the city’s new full-day kindergarten, with the district alerting parents and the public at large less than a day after the Board of School Estimate approved a nearly $66 million budget to expand the program.

The budget was approved in a 3-1 vote at the March 25 meeting and includes $1.5 million allotted to expand the current free, half-day program and a tuition-based full-day program chosen by lottery into a free full-day program beginning in the fall.

The following day, the district posted registration forms on its website.
The sole vote against the $65.89 million spending plan was BOSE President Debra McCann, who also voted against the plan at the March 7 nonbinding Board of Education vote.

The BOSE is comprised of two Summit Board of Education members, Chris Bonner and McCann, and two Summit Common Council members, Marjorie Fox and Matt Gould. Mayor Nora Radest also sat on the board in case of a tie.
The tax increase of $137.92 for the average home assessed at $420,000 was one of the McCann’s main concerns because the budget is nearly 3 percent higher than last year’s and higher the state-restricted 2-percent limit.

“The tax increase is a 2.6-percent increase, which is over the state-mandated cap, requiring us to use banked cap,” McCann said. “This is something that the district has never done and something that, in most New Jersey districts, would require a townwide vote.”

The budget utilizes more than $380,000 of the district’s banked capital of $1.5 million. When districts approve budgets below their allowable 2-percent maximum, they may choose to reserve or “bank” the remainder so it can use it in the next few years without voter approval.

“It’s hard for me to believe that $1.5 million can’t be spent more effectively to help these students in other ways, and at other times throughout their K to 12 experience in our schools,” McCann added.

The kindergarten program will provide students with an opportunity to engage in mathematics, reading, writing, science, and social studies in a collaborative setting, according to the district’s website.

Additionally, all kindergarten students will have art, music, physical education, library and Spanish throughout the week.
“I view this budget as an investment in our town and in our children,” Radest said at the meeting.

“Our superintendent, supported by the resulting experience of our first-grade teachers, has concluded that students will be best served by a full-day program,” she said, adding that more than 90 percent of school districts in New Jersey currently offer full-day programs.

Other factors that contribute to the budget increase include a 5-percent increase in health care as well as an almost 3-percent salary increase.

As in past board meetings, public sentiment varied with regard to the full-day program.
Parent Danielle Maloney said that the new kindergarten program increases taxes for the entire city for “the benefit of a small percentage of children.”

“There has to be another way to figure this out,” she said.
“Supporting full-day kindergarten is doing the right thing,” parent Andrea Stein said. “I’m beyond pleased.”
Prior to the March 15 meeting, the district had planned to reduce the number of classes within each grade across the elementary schools, which could have exceeded the guidelines set by the school board of keeping class size to approximately 21 to 22 students.

“The anticipated proposed section reduction will not occur; I’m committed to not being at or below the maximum guideline numbers,” Superintendent June Chang said at the BOSE meeting, adding that there is room in the budget to maintain the current number of classes.