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Regular meetings held at The Hickcok Meeting Room, Summit Public Library, 9:15 a.m.

February 23rd, 2016 SUS Meeting Notes

The feel of the February 23, 2016 Speak Up Summit regular monthly meeting was different, as we discussed some tougher, more controversial issues.   In attendance: Melanie Wilson, Laura Coburn, Kathy Clark, Andrea Stein, Lisa Campbell, Paola Acosta, Anna Shapiro, Tere Usme, Laura Schaffer, Celia Colbert, Lori Leiter
Several parents of special education students were also present.

We discussed in-depth special education lawsuits. Of course, we spoke in generalities. A sentiment of frustration in dealing with the district was shared. It is perceived that the district is too quick to choose litigation over other solutions, and therefore the cost-per-pupil legal fees have been increasing and are much greater than those of similar and nearby districts. We questioned where payments for large suits, when they are awarded, come from in the budget. Some parents feel that better partnerships are needed. We strongly suggested that some of the special ed parents form a group, similar to Speak Up Summit, that would advocate for the children and be a united force when dealing with the administration.

The discussion was underway when Board Rep Celia Colbert arrived and she said that she did not think our litigation fees have been excessive nor are growing. She said that examining such costs are part of the charge of the operations and education committees. There is no committee that specifically addresses special ed.

The issue is how to develop trust on both sides of the table…the families involved and the administration. Right now, families are afraid to speak up with their true feelings for fear of retribution. Parents have been “giving up” to a degree, and feel that they have been “beaten down.” The special ed parents who were present want answers as to how the special ed process works without exposing themselves.
Celia agreed that this would be a very useful public discussion and will be bringing it up to the rest of the board.

There will be a special Board of Education meeting on March 7 at 7pm in the Wilson School to discuss budget issues. One question is whether or not the BOE should go to the allowed two-percent cap. Celia reminded us that pretty much every single district around us goes right up to cap because those towns’ school budgets do not have to be voted on unless they exceed cap. (Summit has a Board of School Estimate that votes on the school budget, made up of two members of the BOE, two members of Common Council, and the mayor if a tie-breaking vote is necessary.) Also, whether we should shoot for a hard cap of two percent, or use the allowed adjustment for increased health-care costs that the state is allowing us to raise. This would put us at 2.8 percent. Summit had a year with much more healthcare costs than in previous years, and therefore our costs skyrocketed. If and only if we do go to cap, would we be allowed to access an emergency fund of about $400,000.

Every few years the topic of students using the Summit schools who do not actually reside in the town is broached. Celia said she could not discuss the system Summit uses to ascertain that all students are, in fact, residents. After the meeting I found a really good article about the problem in NJ.…/stealing-educationsoledadobr…

The article states that private investigators whose business is to track down “education stealers” is blossoming. The question becomes, how much does it cost to track down the students vs. the cost-per-pupil. We sincerely hope that the BOE will relook at the situation, and perhaps come up with a new program to validate residency, particularly after ninth grade when the checking stops. We hope they will look into these investigators, or police, or social workers…What about 100 random K-12 verifications every year, at random times?

Next SUS meeting will be March 22, 8:30am, 175 Colonial Rd. All are welcome.

Please attend all the upcoming BOE meetings!