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Enrollment at Princeton Public Schools Climbs, Referendum to Expand Likely

The Princeton Public Schools District is educating 163 more students than last year, with nearly half the new students coming from Princeton University’s Merwick-Stanworth Faculty Apartments, school officials said Tuesday night.

Total enrollment in the district is up 4.6 percent over last fall, with  3,700 students enrolled as of Sept. 27 compared with 3,537 students in September of 2015.

Enrollment at the John Witherspoon Middle School is up by 50 students, and enrollment at Community Park Elementary School is up by 38 students. Enrollment at Riverside Elementary is up by 25 students, and enrollment at Johnson Park is up by 23 students. Enrollment at Princeton High is up by 18 students so far compared with last year, and enrollment at Littlebrook Elementary is up by nine students.

Students who live at Merwick-Stanworth, AvalonBay and Copperwood account for 106 of the 163 new students in the district, Superintendent Steve Cochrane said.

Seventy-five of the new students in the district are from the Merwick-Stanworth development, 21 are from Cooperwood, and 10 are from AvalonBay.

Enrollment is expected to continue to rise as more of the new apartment units are filled. About 100 of the 325 units at Merwick-Stanworth are still unoccupied, Cochrane said. About 10 percent of the 280 apartment units at AvalonBay are occupied, he said.

Cooperwood was previously a 55-and-older community but started accepting residents under the age of 55 after the state changed regulations for 55-and-older communities.

School district policy caps classroom sizes at 25 students in elementary school and 30 students in higher levels, Cochrane said.

Dina Shaw, co-president of the PTO at John Witherspoon, has three children in the district – one at the high school and two at John Witherspoon. She asked school officials what plans are in place to educate hundreds of new students.

Some parents say Princeton should no longer be a receiving district for students from Cranbury, she said.

“At least Cranbury pays to attend our schools. Neither Princeton University nor the Institute for Advanced Study pay the schools, yet a large number of their children are being educated,” she said. “I realize the university gives money to the town, but it is not paying our bills for teachers and buildings. What is our plan to get them to pay their fair share? Fair is fair.”

Taxes will continue to go up for residents, putting an unfair burden on them, Shaw said.  Some classrooms at John Witherspoon have 27 or more students, she said.

“I did not move to Princeton to have classes of that size,” she said. “The high school has one of largest populations it has ever had and it is growing. What is the plan?”

Cochrane said the district has more space it can use at John Witherspoon Middle School. The district could hire more teachers next year to reduce class sizes at the school, he said. “We have a little room to expand there,” he said. “The high school is a question mark.”

Some schools don’t have many more classrooms that could be used for expansion purposes. Cochrane said district officials are developing a proposal for a referendum. The school board looking at approving architects for a capacity study for all school buildings.

“Once we’ve put a plan in place we will go to the state,” Cochranse said. “A long-term plan will be looking at a referendum, but now we need approval for short-term solutions. We can rent space in other places nearby to move some of classrooms. We may have to look at trailers and cottages. The state will approve the plan as we have a more permanent plan to handle the issues.”

Voters must approve referendums. The district would borrow money to pay for any expansion, and taxpayers would pay back the bonds.

“This is a community that supports learning and education. I’m confident when we sit down and talk about the needs we have in district, we will find a way to make it work,” Cochrane said.

School Board President Andrea Spalla said borrowing would be budgeted so there would be as little tax impact on residents as possible.

“As old bonds retire, then we would take out new bonds. The tax impact would be minimal, not a sudden spike,” Spalla said. “The bond from 2001 is maturing in 2022. If did have another bond coming in we would feather it in so we would pay less interest up front so there would not be a dramatic increase as we move from one bond to another.”

Shaw said it isn’t fair that many residents are paying skyrocketing property taxes when the schools receive no voluntary payments from the Institute and the University and do not pay tax on all its property. The school voluntarily pays property taxes on residential properties. School taxes account for about 50 percent of property taxes in Princeton.

Cochrane said the University and Institute are “long-term partners in education” with the school district.

“They pay a payment in lieu of taxes that goes to the municipality,” he said. “I’ve asked the mayor for numbers so we can begin that conversation.”

A demographic study of the district has the school district peaking in 2017-18 in terms of student population, but Cochrane said the actual enrollment in the district is 150 students above what was projected. It is unclear at this point whether enrollment will peak and come down still, or just accelerate, he said.

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.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    My 3 cents about the language immersion program. Yes, it has to start early but it doesn’t have all classes in a different language. You can have, say Social Studies and Spanish everyday, and that would easily do it. In my country, when I was little, there was an elementary school that did that, and then they finish 6th grade the kids were fluent in English and had vast knowledge US history and culture plus following the mandatory curriculum of the country, in Spanish of course. There was no need of extra hours, it was just constant, consistent, every day. So, somebody should investigate it. In Europe, people finish HS fluent in 2 languages with impeccable grammar. I do not know why is that not attainable in the US…

  • Liz Winslow

    They’re not. Immersion is a pilot progam at CP to make sure it works, as it’s quite difficult to find and compensate qualified teachers to suddenly start teaching everyone in a foreign language full time.

  • Liz Winslow

    Are you sure that the residents don’t pay the entire tax bill, or that the university doesn’t chip in for it pro rata? This seems like quite an assertion to make; those houses are not university-owned, and must be refi’d immediately if the resident/employee leaves PU.

  • Liz Winslow

    Again, your facts on the ground are wrong, and you are jumping to conclusions of “racism and bigotry” without having actual information, but only your pre-existing opinions. First, there is no shortage of students wanting to get into the Spanish immersion program at CP, and they’re definitely not all Latino – your above assertion that this was internal segregation is categorically false. Second, putting a language immersion program in every school would be a huge undertaking in finding, and paying, for qualified teachers. It’s a pilot program in CP in one class per lower grades to ensure it works in the first place, because it’s a nice idea but a huge undertaking to execute.

  • Liz Winslow

    Also, I would love to see a citation where above grade-level work – if we stipulate that even is the case in all PCS classes – causes ADHD. That’s a new one on me.

  • Liz Winslow

    I have to interject here – this is categorically untrue, as a parent of two children at Charter. First – Charter gets about $15k per student from the district, while PPS schools get about $24k per school. Second – PCS goes so far as to go door to door in diverse neighborhoods to promote enrolling in the lottery. Third – the massive oversubscription to the lottery every year is proof that *many* Princetonians want that option. Fourth – your assertion about needing charters in Newark but not Princeton is exactly backward from an economic perspective; charters in inner cities really do suck away the last marginal school tax dollar, but that is far from true in Princeton. Fifth – because I’m anticipating this as a next point – Charter has a robust special needs program (my oldest child is on the spectrum and has physical problems as well), and contracts with an outside entity, not PPS for it – so there’s no money suck there, either.

    Not to mention – if Charter were to close tomorrow, there is nowhere to put all of its 6-8th graders in JW.

    While Charter may be a self-segregating group based on the values and goals of families who apply, it is categorically NOT racist, and has gone out of its way to encourage diversity.

  • Liz Winslow

    Well, my 3 year old son is in preschool at Riverside in a disabled classroom. It is state law that all school districts provide services to special needs kids by age 3. Having looked into district preschool for my older, undisabled daughter, I learned that the tuition charged to parents for kids without an IEP was far over $10k/year. So, there may be a lot of problems, but preschool isn’t one of them.

  • Dafna Kendal

    The pension system is a state-issue. The superintendent is well-paid but it is a 24/7 job.

  • FreshAir

    Please share the amount he’s paid. Its a very good salary, with great benefits including pension….it is not? Our former superintendent, Judy Wilson, receives the largest annual pension in the County… a very generous amount. Or have they changed the compensation structure for this new superintendent? Will he not be pensioned as well?

  • Dafna Kendal

    The superintendent’s salary is capped. Our superintendent makes less than some of the principals.

  • FreshAir

    How compensated? Forever.

  • Alexi Assmus

    I mean the years before pre-K.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Pre-school is paid for by parents and the kids often go to pre-school in basements.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Yes. The public schools are funded by property taxes and those renting or owning homes contribute to the property tax haul either through their rent payments or directly through the payment of their property taxes.

  • PrincetonResident

    There is a school board election coming up. The candidates should be asked about ways to hold down spending.

  • MathMathMath

    I used to clean university apartments, in Hibben, Magie and Stanworth, as a summer job when I was in college back in the 1980s. Even then, those apartments were barebones with linoleum floors, small rooms, single-pane windows and no central AC. That’s why most PU workers lived out of town. This sudden upsurge of students is because these employees are now living in town, in all of the lovely newly built housing. FWIW, Stanworth-Merwick is run by a private dormitory company and I certainly hope those houses do indeed pay property taxes. However, that doesn’t address the larger question of whether PU should pay more to support the schools, which are a major selling point when recruiting faculty. Has anyone looked at decoupling sewer fees from the property tax bill so that PU can be assessed separately for using the public sewer service? I, for one, would gladly write a separate check for the fee if so.

  • just asking

    Do the “undocumented” students pay their fair share?

  • Princeton resident

    You are misinformed. On Wednedsdays, 10th-12th graders get at at 1:49pm. Otherwise dismissal is at 2:51pm.

  • Cara Marcano

    How is the superintendent compensated ? It almost seems like they are directly compensated to drive up taxes? Why would he advocate for this this way?

  • Cara Marcano

    Exactly. Those 80 students should be paid for by the University. The fact that the mayor and the superintendent would even attempt to argue otherwise is unbelievable. How can they be trusted to educate children if they think that the average person could accept this?

  • Cara Marcano

    Why do the high school kids get out of school at 1:45 on a weekday one day a week? For how much money we spend why do they not go to school? Letting them all go home at 1:30 and making them start so early just so some can do 3 hours of sports seems incorrect to me.

  • Cara Marcano

    Just put the mandarin and the language emersion as a requirement into all the public schools and deal with the racism and bigotry.

  • Cara Marcano

    The Mandarin school was an amazing idea- a real innovation not like the money suck charter that is so racist that we have now. Our current charter is just so that some parents can self-segregate away from Latino kids (this is racism and should not be supported) and also which pushes kids above grade level which all education research shows just makes them have ADHD. They need charters perhaps in Newark but not here in Princeton. The Spanish emersion program should be district-wide and include all.

  • Cara Marcano

    Exactly.I agree.

  • Cara Marcano

    Also why are parents allowed to segregate out of certain classes? So for example at Community Park why is Spanish emersion not required for all? Why are those classes that are not Spanish emersion so crowded?

  • Cara Marcano

    Do Montgomery and West Windsor have Princeton University not paying its fair share in the middle of the town ?

  • Cara Marcano

    This has nothing to do with the undocumented students and EVERYTHING to do with the University not paying its fair share. THE majority of the growth is from the University and its housing all over town.

  • Cara Marcano

    The University – Princeton University – not the taxpayers – needs to pay its fair share. What kind of leader in community education and what kind of mayor – could possibly advocate otherwise? In addition to what they don’t pay- they also own tons of housing in the town through their mortgage division and the property taxes on that are paid by their employees even though the University owns portion of their professors’ and others homes through their mortgage division, which is not a non-profit either. How can the University own 30% of a professors’ home but not have to pay any property tax on said home? How can they not pay their fair share… The mayor’s husband did not get tenure or did he? until she became Mayor… Do NOT blame the Latino students for this.

  • Princeton resident

    Where in PPS have you seen “pre-schools stashed away in basements”?? The Riverside Pre-K classroom is a lovely space down the hall from Kindergarteners.

  • oldprincetonian

    Before Avalon and Merwick were approved these costs should have been foreseen and planned for. The council must have 2 way communication with the district’s board of ed. (more so than the business administrators or superintendents as the larger the district, the more admin costs go up.) As to the growth, why are we using any space or staff for pre-school? Is pre school required? I paid to send my children to preschool at the Y and churches. If we have undocumented (illegal) residents here attending the schools that neednt be the case either.

  • FreshAir

    Yes, our kids needs are placed at the end of the line. By the time they reach high school, they know the money is flowing up & out and not towards them. Hardworking teachers are frustrated, Parents routinely supplement programming with their own money. For the super-sized amount per child paid to the District by taxpayers, which IS enough to address the unique qualities of our student body, no amount we provide will ever be enough because of mismanagement. The school taps our pockets instead of the resources of our town….families suffer as a result. Council allows this. Investors & people hired by the District profit from this money machine, not the kids. We paid Hillier & friends 81 millions for serious renovations, then more for facility revisions, the largest retiree pension in the County, etc. etc. etc. You will find few if any NJ school budgets that compare with PSDs plush spending spree. The money flowing up is so good in this for the big players, that two Bills are in our legislature to stop any hope taxpayers have.

  • Commentator

    If you believe property taxes in Princeton will *ever* go down, I’ve got a nice bridge I’d like to sell you.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Our school district has approximately 12% of its students on the federal free and reduced lunch program for those with low incomes, we have a significant English as a second language program in our secondary schools, and a special ed program that draws people from around the county to move here. Does Montgomery’s District have this? West Windsor’s?

    Have you seen the secondary schools? How many kids per classroom? The lack of resources compared to a plush corporate, university or institute environment or to the plush Princeton Public Library which the adults use? Have you seen all the pre-schools stashed away in basements?

    Seriously, we have to have a movement to politically empower kids.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Our school district has approximately 12% of its students on the federal free and reduced lunch program for those with low incomes, we have a significant English as a second language program in our secondary schools, and a special ed program that draws people from around the county to move here. Does Montgomery’s District have this? West Windsor’s?

    Have you seen the secondary schools? How many kids per classroom? The lack of resources compared to a plush corporate, university or institute environment or to the plush Princeton Public Library which the adults use? Have you seen all the pre-schools stashed away in basements?

    Seriously, we have to have a movement to politically empower kids.

  • FreshAir

    You mean the “Feather It In” debt plan our School Board President proposes isn’t to your liking? Is that financial strategy like an “Invisible Ink” plan, where all reality disappears until things really heat up?

  • PrincetonResident

    If there is no referendum, property taxes will go down once the current bond expires. That would provide property tax relief to taxpayers.
    The article say 80 students are coming from Princeton University apartments that don’t pay any taxes. That’s $1.5 million dollars a year that taxpayers pay to subsidize Princeton University. Why doesn’t the rich university pay its fair share?

  • Commentator

    The mandarin charter school was a sham–an attempt to get taxpayers to bail out what was essentially a failing private business. It’s unlikely it would have attracted a significant number of students from Princeton, but rather would have drawn heavily from districts such as West Windsor and South Brunswick. It would not have helped our current situation in the least. Moreover, one charter school is already too many.

  • anon

    A few years ago the community was offered a multi-district Mandarin-immersion charter school. This was opposed by school leaders in part due to the argument that losing the projected 1-2 students per grade per school to a charter would be a serious burden on the elementary schools. Now that that option no longer exists, the leaders complain there are too many students and the taxpayers must fund an expansion. The taxpayers end up with less choice, higher class sizes and higher cost.

  • FreshAir

    Our District’s cost per student is already much, much higher than any other District in this region. Our spoiled District is continually given more, including an enormous budget for school renovations, & continually comes up short. Does competent leadership even exist in our District? A serious analysis of budget expenditures & restructuring is long overdue. Stagger student schedules, or send them to other Districts where they’re getting better results for less, until an affordable solution to work within our current means is developed.

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