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Princeton School Board Approves Preliminary Budget, Tax Hike

princeton public schoolsThe school board for the Princeton Public Schools Tuesday night approved a tentative $91.4 million budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

A home assessed at the town average of $810,191 would see a $215 tax increase if the budget is approved.

The school tax levy would increase from $68.2 million to $70.7 million, an increase of  $2.5 million.

Employee benefits account for $14.8 million in the budget. Capital expenditures are $687,000.

The proposed operating budget is $83.4 million. The school district also owes $5.7 million in debt service during 2016-17. Taxpayers will pay another $5.4 million in taxes for debt service.

The budget will now be forwarded to the Mercer County Superintendent for approval.

On April 26 the school board will hold a public hearing on the budget and take a final vote.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Liz Winslow

    OK, but if you’re going to walk down that road, you just argued yourself out of why there should be funding for Spanish in K anywhere in the district, if kids who start in 6th catch up by high school anyway. I think we both agree that early foreign language has benefits beyond learning vocabulary.

  • Princeton resident

    not sure I understand your point here-but I have an 11th grader who started French in 6th grade at PPS and is now in AP French alongside the kids from PCS, so you can’t use that as a justification for funding .

  • Liz Winslow

    It stands to reason that if a child is more than two standard deviations away from average, that s/he would receive special services regardless of which direction the deviation trends, as the standard curriculum wouldn’t be well-suited. Far more than 2% of PPS students are classified for special education purposes, but the district gets up in arms about a G&T population that is by definition only 2% in the other direction. It’s quite frustrating as a parent.

  • Liz Winslow

    You may be right, but I’m pretty sure that my son had Señora Lederman starting in 2012-13 when he was in K at LB. I think if there was a break, it wasn’t for long. I can say having seen one approach to Spanish at LB (let’s stipulate at some lower elementary level for the sake of conversation), and another to French instruction at Charter, it’s amazing what PCS can teach very quickly. I’d hope that would be seen as an opportunity to come together, reflect that maybe this is one of many reasons that so many families enter the PCS lottery, and see what lessons could be learned. I mean, if you want PCS to fold, why not take the high road and create a PPS where a substantial minority of families no longer have any interest in Charter?

  • Liz Winslow

    That is correct. It’s hard to get behind the sour grapes when they operate on 2/3 of the public funding. Again, if that is all special ed, then special ed in PPS needs a serious look.

    As, of course, do those settlements paid.

  • Liz Winslow

    It was just above how PCS spends massively less per year, per student from public funds than PPS does. There is no special ed program on the planet that accounts for such a difference – and if there is, it’s arguably being mismanaged. And perhaps PCS teaches well… my children’s classrooms are full of children for whom English is a second language, and they are educationally assimilated very quickly – another common point where the community is misled about Charter’s sending student makeup.

    If you want to focus on backroom deals and waste in PPS, why not look at the settlements paid by the Board of Ed? Unlike PCS, that’s some pretty low-hanging fruit to attack.

  • Bruce D. Baker

    Yes, you caught me. I am Bruce D. Baker.

  • PrincetonResident

    I’ve heard that PCS only receives about $15000 per student, so it’s not the $23,000 figure quoted above. Not sure how this is calculated.

  • PPS Parent

    I agree – it would be very interesting to see what the apples-to-apples cost to educate regular ed students is. In my opinion, this is roughly the amount per pupil that PCS should be allocated from our school board budget given the school’s low proportion of special ed students (and likely low level of disability among that small population). Honestly, one does not need to be a mathematician or rocket scientist to make a fairly good educated guess that PCS cost to educate a regular ed student is higher given that they are reimbursed at a rate that incorporates the PPS total school population *(per the statistics in my earlier email) and it is supplemented by extra fundraising dollars.

    To each his own – it’s just unfortunate that it costs the taxpayers so much to run an entirely separate system when these kids could be well educated in our PPS system. It seems selfish to me.

  • PrincetonResident

    “So, yes, PCS does get more than its fair share”

    We are discussing how to best educate our children. It is important to stick to the known facts. It would be very interesting to see what the costs are for PPS to educate its regular ed students so that an apples-to-apples comparison with PCS can be made. That is a figure that the PPS should calculate and make public. Until we know that figure, everyone is guessing and making apples to oranges comparisons.

    The very long wait list for PCS is an indication that it is meeting some demand in Princeton that the regular public schools aren’t meeting. It would be good for there to be a survey of PCS parents (and all children who leave PPS schools for other schools) to understand why they are leaving.

  • FreshAir

    Liz Winslow, I’ve used only one “handle” in all the time I’ve posted online… & that “handle” is “FreshAir”.

  • Princeton resident

    this from 2011-“By continuing to provide the Model World Language program that includes Spanish starting in Grade 2”

  • PPS Parent

    I am glad your child is getting the services that he/she needs – as it should be. However, that is an n of one student. The “fair share” you reference is not imaginary and the actual numbers as reported by the NJ DOE 2013-2014 school report card data (most recent that I could find) show that there is a difference in the PCS student body.

    The data says that 7% of PCS student body has a disability. This is compared to 10% – 18% at the elementary schools and JW. And while the data doesn’t say so explicitly, I’d venture to say there are more severe disabilities (that require full time one on one aides for example) included in the PPS schools.

    Similarly, at PCS, the data says there are 0% students with limited English Proficiency while at the PPS elementary school and JW, that percentage ranges from 2.5 – 8%.

    Lastly, 2% of PCS students are economically challenged as compared to 9.5% – 25.7% at the comparable 5 PPS schools.

    I think it is fair to say that the students included in these three sub groupings are more costly to educate. And,even though PCS educates a smaller proportion of each of these groups, they still get an allocation from the school district equal to the average of all students across the district. So, yes, PCS does get more than its fair share.

  • Liz Winslow

    IIRC, my son who is currently at PCS did Spanish in K at LB three years ago… when did these cuts occur?

  • Princeton resident

    Liz- you’re right – I am not referring to an immersion program , which is obviously why I didn’t call it an immersion program. What I said was that all students were taught Spanish starting in Kindergarten until budget cuts forced program cuts.

  • Liz Winslow

    PPS *never* had an immersion program before. Full stop. Never. Please provide a link to exactly what kind of cuts you refer to, because I suspect your definition of “Spanish language program” is not immersion.
    Also, a name would be nice.

  • Liz Winslow

    PCS raises an enormous amount of funds through its parents and other community members each year – I’m just after coming from one of its fundraising events. As for the special ed canard – I am very, very tired of hearing about how PCS doesn’t do some imaginary “fair share.” One of my children is both autistic and receives occupational therapy at PCS, and is thriving there in a way he never did at his sending PPS school.

  • Liz Winslow

    Hm. Are you Bruce D. Baker? And anyway, what a choice of backup – from the link: “This site contains random thoughts, playing around with data…”

  • Liz Winslow

    AP is not G&T. Are we even having the same conversation? (And are you the same person who’s been posting with a zillion different handles, anyway?)

  • PPS parent

    This is definitely an apples to orange comparison. The average PPS per pupil spend includes the cost to educate all students in the district, including those with disabilities, those in the autism program, those that get placed outside our 6 schools, as well as the more “mainstream” students that don’t require supplemental services. PCS, by and large, attracts students who don’t require extra, costly services. So, in fact, it is costing taxpayers more to send students to Charter. PCS gets per pupil funding that exceeds what is spent on that student population in the district public schools. Stated a different way, if the PCS student body was reabsorbed into the existing PPS schools, it would be a huge tax savings. Yes, there would be additional costs at the elementary and middle schools in order to accommodate those students, but not nearly to the tune of the PCS $5 million in our budget.

  • FreshAir

    Clearly, our obese school budget needs to become the top priority for the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign.

  • Princeton resident

    Actually, PPS started Spanish in kindergarten up until a few years ago when budget cuts (largely due to funds being siphoned by PCS) forced them to cut the program for the youngest students. So, no, not a win for Princeton residents.

  • FreshAir

    We need to stop this runaway train that’s filled with our money, until we can inspect it to make sure the brakes are serviced. We also need an investigative committee, with some authority to stop the Board, if people are still complaining about mandated services not being provided.

  • Bill

    Thanks for sharing this information Krystal. I didn’t realize that there are elections every year for the school board.

  • Bill

    I believe PCS is great for the greater good of Princeton. We were lucky enough to get into the Charter School (on our second attempt in the lottery). We wanted to be at PCS because they started languages in kindergarten. Since we started there, I understand that CP has started a Spanish language immersion program. Is this a direct result of the language program at PCS? I don’t know, but if PCS somehow influences the other public schools to innovate and improve, all Princeton residents win.

  • krystalknapp

    Unfortunately when the school board switched to the Nov. ballot instead of having its own spring election, voters lost the right to vote on the budget. School board candidates can still file petitions to run until July 25: https://www.njsba.org/about/candidacy/nominating-petitions/njsba-november-important-dates.pdf

  • Bill

    You raise a good point FreshAir, which makes me wonder why we (or at least me) don’t get more involved and/or interested in the School Board meetings and elections. Considering that the school budget is about 50% of our property tax bill and running the town is about 22% of our property tax bill, we should be at each School Board meeting and grilling the candidates for School Board. One thing is for certain, during the next School Board election I will be more interested and involved! If I hope to afford to live in Princeton till I am carried out in a wooden box, I need to be.

  • FreshAir

    If PPS’s cost per student was the average of what taxpayers pay in Montgomery and West Windsor/Plainsboro per student, Princeton’s school budget would be about 60,000,000. That translates to 26,000,000 to 31,000,000 LESS than PPS hopes to spend this year. So, the time has come to really analyze why our school district has a generous budget, and why people still complain about PPS. Throwing more money into this black hole we call a “school district” isn’t going to accomplish much, until we get to the reason why we’re hemorrhaging money. It’s time to ask other districts how they manage costs, who they contract with for services, etc. and then duplicate the more successful strategies of neighboring districts. We should also look at how many taxpaying households actually shoulder this runaway budget, and consider strategies that will stop the enormous assault on a few to benefit the whole. Only one thing is certain, Princeton taxpayers are doing THEIR job, with many working overtime till it hurts!

  • Censorship is lame

    You can call me CIL for short–I’d switch to something less unwieldy, but that’s obviously frowned upon. I will certainly check out your link. And honestly I don’t doubt charter can be great for those lucky enough to win the, ahem, lottery. I know lots of kids who go there. I’m just not sure it’s great for the greater good.

  • Censorship is lame
  • SFB

    for what it’s worth, an analysis by the Department of Education said that Princeton Public Schools had a per-pupil spend of $24,614 in 2013-2014 (compared to $17,262 for W Windsor, $18,726 for Mont Twp). that figure would be very much in line with @disqus_npjC6H7Anp:disqus’s calculated figure of $25,814 for 2015-2016. My understanding is that the Charter School just uses much less taxpayer $.

  • krystalknapp

    Yes, got the issue you were raising with the taxpayer funding. Definitely worth looking into. Need to dig into state data more also. Thanks for your comments.

  • Bill

    You are correct, the PCS definitely has additional funding sources but I was considering only the tax payer funded sources to determine what impact the school has on me, a property tax payer in Princeton. And bias alert – I have kids at PCS and PHS, so I guess that I’m biased in favor of all our public schools.

  • krystalknapp

    I was also thinking about the funding and the enrollment numbers and need to get more info. on this. I think the charter school also has some other funding sources but I need to look at the budget. Thanks for raising this issue.

  • Bill

    Krystal, Thanks for providing these numbers. Based on the numbers in the article, and Wikipedia pages for the Princeton Regional Schools and the Princeton Charter School, I calculated the cost per pupil in the Regional Schools and the Charter School as paid by tax payers. Now, I recognize that I am surely guilty of some apples-to-oranges comparison here, but let me present the numbers that I found/calculated to at least start the discussion and see how we can get to a pawpaws-to-pawpaws comparison:

    Regional Schools Budget – $91.4 M (minus $5 M to PCS) = $86.4 M
    PCS Budget – $5 M
    Regional Schools Enrollment – 3347 students
    PCS Enrollment – 348 students

    $86.4M/3347 students = $25,814 per student at Regional Schools
    $5M/348 students = $14,368 per student at PCS

    So, what is a tax payer to conclude?

  • FreshAir

    Uh-oh, is this a suggestion of another lawsuit brewing against Princeton? Are you sharing word that we’re too busy designing wading pools & creating bike lanes to offer sufficient programs for the gifted & talented?

  • Censorship is lame

    No threat intended at all. Quite the contrary. I’m simply pointing out that there are strong advantages to allowing anonymous comments on this site. I’m sorry you have apparently taken such personal offense at my lack of support for the charter school. While perhaps my post could have been more diplomatic, it does not express a particularly uncommon point-of-view on this issue. But emotions run high, I suppose.

  • Liz Winslow

    Or what, she won’t have your scintillating commentary on her page? Way to threaten the press – really adds to your credibility. You obviously have a strong need to seem important to internet strangers… and with that, I’m done here.

  • Liz Winslow

    You assume that everyone in Princeton can afford over $20k for private school tuition. I’m also not sure where you get this “pseudoscience” claim from, but my child’s neuropsychologist would disagree with you about his giftedness. Anyway, could you kindly attach your name to your opinion, so if such a nasty person shows in the comments section again I know it’s not you under a different moniker?

  • Censorship is lame

    Oh, it’s well more than 40…but who’s counting? Lol. And I can tell you that one of them involved handing you the biggest scoop of your career. So be nice!

  • Censorship is lame

    There’s definitely a market, and it is well served by the many excellent private schools in the area. I see no reason the school system at large (to say nothing of the taxpayers) should suffer because certain parents want their kids to have more homework or “a different approach,” or however one wishes to describe what the charter school offers other than bragging rights. As for G&T education, I can tell you first hand that the field is rife with pseudoscience promulgated by false prophets. We’re lucky not to have it here. Your post tends to confirm my sense that the charter school is largely an expensive sop to overweening parents who think their kids are too “gifted” to get an education alongside everyone else yet are too cheap or conflicted to pay for a dreaded “elitist” private school. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

  • krystalknapp

    Censorship is Lame, aka Watch your Step and 40 other anon handles – The charter school is slated to receive $5 million. The charter school received $4.9 million for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

  • Liz Winslow

    It stands to reason that PCS wouldn’t have such a long waitlist if its approach to education weren’t valued by many parents in this community – especially since Princeton (in violation of state law) offers no G&T program in PPS. PCS is not at all about division; it’s about providing a different kind of education, one for which there’s clearly a market in Princeton.

  • Censorship is lame

    Superfluous not in the sense that it can’t fill its ranks–clearly it can. It is superfluous in that while charter schools may have a place in poorly performing school districts, they are wholly unnecessary–and arguably destructive–in a place like Princeton. The charter school exists only to create a perceived “elite” tier within a public, ostensibly egalitarian structure, not because it remedies some actual deficiency within the existing school system. In truth, it weakens the rest of the system by siphoning off some of the more motivated and capable kids (or those with overweening parents) along with money that would otherwise be spent in the other schools. That Chinese charter school that got shot down would have been an even worse disaster.

  • Liz Winslow

    Hi Censorship is lame –

  • Bill

    While I am curious as to the total cost the Princeton Charter School has on the school budget, perhaps the more relevant question to tax payers is the cost per child to educate at the Charter School versus Princeton’s other public schools. If the cost per child is lower at the Charter School, then the Charter School is a tax savings for us.

    As for superfluous, once the waiting list to get into the Charter School is significantly shorter, then I would agree it is time to reconsider whether it is needed. Currently, however, it is my understanding that the list is quite long.

  • Kate

    Yikes! is the School Board cognizant of how this adversely affects the taxpayers who are trying to be able to afford to stay in town? Roger Martindale was correct when he warned some years ago…”Princeton will be a golden ghetto.” Only Roger thought consolidation would stop that from happening and that hasn’t panned out too well. Roger’s premonition was correct. The moderate and middle classes are vanishing right before our eyes and it seems that the School Board has little regard for the impact of its ever increasing budget.

  • Censorship is lame

    How much of this goes to the superfluous charter school?

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