Planet Princeton

Princeton Superintendent: School District Would Lose Almost $1.4 Million Annually If Charter School Expands

Princeton Charter School
A total of 76 students would be added to the charter school if the state gives the school permission to expand.

Superintendent of Schools Stephen Cochrane said today that the Princeton Public Schools would lose almost $1.4 million in funding each school year if the Princeton Charter School expands.

Charter School officials announced on Tuesday that the school wants to add three more classrooms and double the size of the K-2 student body. The school currently educates 348 students in grades K-8, and receives four times more applicants than available slots.

Overall, the charter school plans to add 76 pupils to the student body for a total of 424 students, Head of School Lawrence Patton said.  Grades K-2 would increase by 62 students combined, and the school would add another two students per grade in grades 3-8, for a total of 12 more students in the upper grades combined.

The school would use its capital and endowment fund to pay for additional classrooms and an expanded cafeteria.

The State of New Jersey must grant permission for the school to change its charter and accept more students in kindergarten and first grade. Currently the school accepts about half of its students in the third grade. The school also wants permission to use a weighted lottery that would allow officials to give an extra chance for admission to students who qualify as economically disadvantaged.

Cochrane said the district plans to weigh in on the proposal with the state Department of Education. Princeton Public Schools officials said they were caught off guard Tuesday by the announcement about the expansion.

“The suddenly announced proposal by the Princeton Charter School’s board of trustees to expand its enrollment by 76 students would, if approved by the NJDOE, result in an annual loss to the Princeton Public School district of $1.38 million for both tuition and transportation,” Cochrane said.  “This amount would be in addition to the $5.05 million the district is already obligated to pay PCS annually. A financial loss of this magnitude would not be offset in any way by additional aid from the state.”

Cochrane said the financial loss would erase nearly all of the $1.4 million increase in the school district’s tax levy for next year.

“This proposal, if approved, will leave the district with less money to educate the 3,700 students in our schools – even as the needs and numbers of those students continue to rise,” Cochrane said. “It will, if approved, compromise the quality of our students’ education.”

Some parents and officials have argued that the the charter school’s expansion would save the school district money, because the charter school’s per pupil cost is just under $15,000 while the school district’s per pupil cost is over $24,000.

“Contrary to what some have claimed, under no scenario would the PCS Trustees’ proposed expansion save our taxpayers money,” Cochrane said. “While the district would have to pay PCS an additional $1.16 million in tuition annually for the additional 76 students who transfer there, the district will not realize any cost savings. Why? Because the school district operates on an economy of  scale, and most of its costs are fixed, not variable.”

Cochrane said as an example, the district has 220 students in kindergarten. The students are spread out across 13 classrooms in four elementary schools.

“If 21 of those students go to PCS next year as proposed, the district’s class sizes in kindergarten may drop by one or two students, but we will not reduce grade populations to the point where we need fewer teachers or staff, or less building space,” Cochrane said. “The transfer of those 21 kindergarteners would, however, require the district, under the state aid guidelines, to give the Princeton Charter School more than $320,000 in tuition — the approximate cost of four teachers with salaries and benefits. And, given the trustees’ proposal, the same economy of scale and the same loss of tuition would play out for grades one and two.”

Cochrane also said the charter school’s expansion would not alleviate the district’s rising enrollment issues. The proposed transfer of 76 students to PCS, mostly in grades K-2, would not lessen total enrollment at any grade level enough to allow the district to reduce the number of class sections, Cochrane said.

“The greatest squeeze for space is, and will continue to be, at Princeton High School,” Cochrane said. “The trustees’ proposal not only offers no relief for that, but leaves the district with even less money to maintain its programs, staffing levels and class sizes there. Since the vast majority of PCS students matriculate to Princeton High School, the trustees’ proposal is contrary to the longer-term interests of the PCS students and families that the trustees serve, as it would drain funds from their future high school.”

Cochrane said in a town that values cutting-edge public schools,  instead of expanding the charter school, the district should work with the school to consolidate the two separate districts.

“The trustees’ proposal puts the Princeton Public Schools and the Princeton Charter School at cross purposes. It takes from one to enhance the other,” he said.

Consolidating would save money and serve all students far better while also alleviating the district’s space needs for years to come, Cochrane said.

“We would welcome creative thinking about ways to combine our resources with those of the Princeton Charter School to increase our collective economy of scale and to enhance the learning for all the children in this community,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Planet Princeton has asked charter school officials to respond to Cochrane’s statement and we will be posting a follow-up story after officials have a chance to digest the statement and comment.

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.

  • FreshAir

    Thanks! And I respect your accomplishments in life. Overcoming obstacles, rising from poverty to the top, are things to be acknowledged & applauded. I’m sure your children are lucky. Mine are hard workers & going far because of that. It’s beautiful… all good. Trust me when I say, we’re a giving family like yours & not one you’d want to lose in Princeton. Again, welcome to Princeton.

  • Steve Fu

    Fresh Air, there is no real anonymity on the internet. Imagine a scenario where someone chooses to go on the dark web, contract an eastern european (ie. bulgaria) cyber hacker to trace the IP address of host server of planet princeton and then go through logs to trace posting IP’s. Once posting IP is established, it can be traced to your home address and computer. From there property lookup can establish resident name, etc. Your phone isn’t safe as well and can be traced. I would just caution you don’t rely on the “perceived” anonymity and safety. If we ever happen to meet in Princeton please introduce yourself and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee, beer or your beverage of choice. You do post some worthwhile comments and I’d be interested in listening with open mind. All the best.

  • Liz Winslow

    PCS has to live with the budget it’s given by PPS. That is based on a percentage of what it costs to educate a PPS student. PCS cannot float bonds and then increase taxes to pay for debt service; it has to service its debt out of its current budget. Yes, it’s debt to be serviced; no, by design, it is not capable of taking on a limitless amount of debt and then increasing taxes.

    Just for comparison’s sake, it is worth noting that PPS pays more to service its debt every year than it remits to PCS.

    Really, if PCS were out to screw PPS, wouldn’t it do everything possible – such as not expand and pay for facilities for 76 students out of a current budget – to raise PPS’s bills? After all, that would mean a higher remittance to PCS. PCS isn’t doing that. It is trying to be both a good steward of everyone’s tax dollars and expand its offering of a fine education to more people who would like their children to receive it.

  • Anne

    “PCS is subsidizing a project that will create more classroom space for all the kids in Princeton – Its not the other way around.”

    This is false. It is not more space for all of the kids in Princeton, it is more space for the subset of kids enrolled in the Charter School.

    The only way it would be for all of the kids in Princeton, or at least all of the kids in Princeton’s elementary schools and Middle School, is if you created enough space to allow all of the children from those PPS schools to enroll in the PCS school. Or is PCS a district?

    A Facebook post by a PCS parent states that PCS is getting a loan from Peapack Gladstone Bank. Is that loan interest free? If not, isn’t that debt to be serviced?

  • CharterMom

    Actually, there is an opposing perspective, which I think has borne out in the academic excellence that over the years has increased on PPS’s part. The reason that PCS was created, was because at the time, PPS’ curriculum was stale and lacked challenge and rigor, especially in the math department. The rigor and excellence in testing that is part of PCS’s charter has, over the years, caused PPS to raise its bar, curriculum etc. for the rest of the students in Princeton. Since the creation of PCS, PPS has become a better school district, its math and other academics has increased in rigor over the years as reflected by the testing and programs created by PPS because of the competition from PCS.

  • CharterMom

    PCS is paying for its own expansion and the classroom space that PPS would disregard in favor of sharpening its pencil, and would instead propose to float a bond for and expend more tax payer money on paying to expand the schools that it controls – see the Planet Princeton Article indicating Cochran’s plan to deal with this issue in November of 2016. PCS is subsidizing a project that will create more classroom space for all the kids in Princeton – Its not the other way around. PPS already pays 5 million a year in debt payments, which is why it costs PPS 25K per student. Does anyone want higher taxes to pay more per student than what we are paying now? I hope not.

  • CharterMom

    Anne: I have read the 2014 report that was purchased by the PPS board, issued by Statistical Forecasting, LLC, to consider the increase in enrollment because of the new construction in town – I think this is what you are referring to above. It severely underestimated the number of children that would be entering PPS because of all the new construction in town. Frankly, I think that report that PPS should file a suit asserting negligence. Right now, however, we are facing a big problem with over enrollment that is only going to get worse if it isn’t approached in a fiscally responsible way. PCS should be seen as part of the solution and not the enemy. Some solutions: The two schools should get together and figure out how to share resources. Moreover, PPS should seriously consider closing out a few classrooms at the K-2 level (rather than asserting a false economy of scales) and use those resources to teach older newly enrolled kids in the K-5 buildings, instead of attacking PCS for agreeing to build on its campus at its own expense and take in some overenrolled PPPS students, thus freeing PPS paying for additional lower school building and resources at tax payer expense (causing more bonds to issue etc.). Additionally, instead of PPS taking the position that PCS is causing the continued High School overcrowding, PPS should consider closing out its send/receive contract with Cranbury, which is a loss leader (17.3K tuition versus 25K in per PPS student x 330). If we can somehow consolidate resources (merger is not going to happen), it will certainly help – though it remains to be seen by how much… The PPS district can also sharpen its pencil a bit more to see if there is any more fat in the budget that can be cut, but will not negatively effect excellence in the school, take the time it needs to plan out how it will respond to this crisis in a fiscally responsible way.

  • FreshAir

    Thanks, but no, I won’t be able to accept your invitation.

  • Liz Winslow

    A little legwork – not provided by PPS, mind you – reveals the cost per student. So this CAN be put to bed.

    -PPS has a budget of $90 million.
    -That budget identifies special ed and bilingual education costs of $13.25 million.
    -$5 million goes to Charter.
    -90 – 13.25 – 5 = $71.75 million dollars.
    -District enrollment is 3,884.
    -Special education enrollment is 497 and Charter enrollment is 348
    -3884 – 497 – 348 = 3,039 students
    $71,750,000/3,039 = $23,610 spent per student.

    So once and for all – $15k Charter vs. $24k PPS IS apples to apples. The cost discrepancy is not due to special education, which has already been backed out of the $24k number.

  • Liz Winslow

    @FreshAir – that doesn’t mean you can’t contact him privately, now does it? I personally believe in attaching names to convictions, but understand how it’s not always wise for certain people. But Steve’s offering you a conversation in a very open way. Unless you really are not open to any “Fresh Air” in your thinking, why refuse?

    BTW, I’m at 211 Dodds Lane, so heck, come visit us both. We won’t reveal your identity if that’s a cause of concern for you. But let’s actually talk in meaningful ways, face to face (vs. pixel to pixel). Contact me offline at ewinslow@gmail.com. I, and I believe Steve, wouldn’t reveal your real identity. But let’s talk, for the greater good. Are you game?

  • FreshAir

    Everything folks post here becomes a permanent part of the WWW & is searchable. For anyone dependent on a paycheck in town, full disclosure of one’s name & address could jeopardize that security or position. Therefore, I understand & respect those who exercise their right to remain anonymous here. Choosing anonymity doesn’t make them any less courageous than you & doesn’t make their level of conviction any less than yours. We’re all well intended, good citizens who care (even when viewpoints differ.) I definitely won’t be visiting you, so please don’t open your door to let any “FreshAir” in!

  • Dafna Kendal

    It is simply not true that most disabled children don’t participate in standardized testing. IEPs include accommodations for children with a variety of disabilities to allow them to take the test. Learning disabled does not mean intellectually disabled. Many of these children either need breaks, or extra time to be successful.

  • Steve Fu

    FreshAir, i am not anti-middle class. I am an immigrant, raised in Harlem housing projects, went to NYC public schools in the 70’s and 80’s. Grew up on welfare as in food stamps. Do no presume anything about me and say how dare I suggest folks move. I know what it is to be dirt poor. That is why I’m for paying taxes that benefit everyone without hesitation. This country has been so generous to me and now that I have the wherewithal to give back you can bet that I will give generously. It’s easy to hide behind the anonymity of the internet and use words like “how dare”. I for one will stand up and be counted, so my name is Steve Fu, 357 Dodds Lane. I invite you to have the same courageous and conviction to put your real name and address so that we may actually be able to visit each other and work towards a better Princeton for all. You will be welcomed in my home anything for coffee and cake. I would imagine we would find more in common about what we want for the future of Princeton and the kids of Princeton. The future of America belongs to them. I will treat you with respect and dignity as I would all my neighbors and fellow Americans.

  • Liz Winslow

    Anne – I wasn’t twisting your words. I wasn’t even responding to you.

    As for the PCS Board not giving PPS a heads up? I agree that was a discourtesy. I don’t know what the reasoning was, but I’m sure we’ll hear more in coming days. That being said, it’s interesting that you raise that “consolidating” with Charter has been bandied about before. Had anyone told Charter about this grand plan?

  • FreshAir

    Yes, they need to work together. Yes, both need to convince the residents of this town they’re worthwhile stewards. Thank you!

  • FreshAir

    With the highest regional school tax rate, the highest property tax assessments, & our ever-increasing rate-ables, how dare you suggest that folks pay more school tax or move???

    Your suggestion that Princeton’s middle class move out is a very bad one, for many reasons. In school, my kids learned more from the kids of working class families about what it means to work hard & never give up than from any other source.. the art of overcoming obstacles is at the root of everything one needs to learn to thrive. We take on problems, we own them, & we figure them out. That’s the solid core of what it means to learn.

    PRS must be run the way the higher performing, cost-efficient districts around us are. It is time our School Board examine all obstacles & figure them out. What you suggest, Steve Fu, is wrong & way too much… because every single year our District already naturally receives more income from changing rate-ables. Our District already has more cash per student than others.

    Frankly, it is a HUGE embarrassment to this town that our own School Board isn’t making the grade. You are cordially invited to donate your own money to help these floundering District administrators do the jobs we pay them well to do. But, you definitely aren’t welcomed to generously offer more of MY money as the solution to the financial mess they’ve made with mountains of cash.

  • Anne

    The personal stories are very powerful. My grandparents helped pay for the building of PCS, too. (I’m not being facetious.) It’s still not relevant to the obligation, potentially a legal one, that the PCS Board had to put the expansion proposal in front of all of its tax-paying stakeholders (with kids in the schools or without) long before the day or day before the amendment was due to the NJ DOE. They took a course of action. People, including PPS admin, were caught off guard given the significance of the proposal and the fact that the amendment is already submitted. Is that something that the Superintendent should be admonished for in a press release? I’ve also seen written that he and PPS didn’t deal with its enrollment issue earlier and the merger idea was born out of desperation. False. I was at a BOE financial workshop two years ago where the matter was discussed extensively and had a direct impact on the resulting budget.

    You use my words re working together and good will and twist them into how PPS needs to convince “you” to listen. In the end, it’s both PPS and PCS leadership that need to convince its stakeholders, the residents of the town, that they’re worthwhile stewards of our money. They’re both spending it. To me that’s the most compelling reason to do it together, because the debates re qualitative and quantitative superiority are too circular, and there’s too much interdependency for one way to clearly prevail on its merits.

  • Bill

    Dear Constituent, the first feeling that I had upon getting elected to the school board was a sense of responsibility, whether it be to make good decisions, to be highly informed or (especially) not to stick my foot in my mouth when discussing school board issues. My biggest concerns when running did not include PCS, they were the wellness of our students (academic integrity, AP arms race) and how to handle the impact of growth in Princeton on our schools. And these are still my main concerns that I want to address once sworn in next month.

    But with the proposed PCS expansion most likely being the pressing concern for the PPS, I want to quickly get up to speed and into the weeds on all the relevant finances. I want to understand the source and path of every single dollar that is spent on students at PPS and PCS. As to the ultimate outcome of the PCS expansion request, the only definite answer I can give you is that I don’t believe in being limited to a yes/no outcome on complex decisions. What that means from a practical sense, I don’t know yet but I am willing to bet that in one year we will have an outcome that no one could have predicted. And I will work to ensure that it will be an outcome with a surprisingly broad degree of approval from everyone. So, my apologies that today I can’t give you a more definitive answer to your question.

    But right now, I am going to go online to watch one of PHS’s runners compete in Portland, Oregon in the Nike X-County Nationals. After all, everything ultimately comes down to the kids at our schools and their successes in the few years we have them here.

  • FreshAir

    What you suggest is way too much, because every single year our District naturally receives more income because of changing rate-ables. On top of the highest school tax rate around, that increase already provides our with District significantly more cash than other towns. With the highest school tax rate already & our high property tax assessments, how dare you suggest that folks either pay more school tax or move. Princeton’s wealthy who spend, spend, spend for every endless town “need”, are changing the vibe of my once hip, diverse town. Much as you may be or dream of living like royalty, making the middle class here an endangered species isn’t a great idea. My kids have learned more in our District from the kids from other working class families here about what it means to work hard for something & never give up.. and that is the root of everything one needs to learn for success. To become sustainable, PRS must be managed in the ways the higher performing, cost-efficient districts around us are too. The District cannot be spoiled, & run recklessly with no reasonable boundaries & endless credit without accountability. It is time for District administrators to have to REALLY work for success & really earn their lush pensions.

  • Constituent

    Hey, Bill – as one of newly elected BOE members, what are your thoughts for how you’d like to see PPS address increased enrollment? It’s not an unprecedented occurrence here or elsewhere. Our district enrollments have increased at higher rates in past years, and they have even declined so much in the past that an elementary school was closed. And given overall aging demographics, Princeton could very well benefit from additional residences adding to the tax base. I’m not convinced it’s a sky is falling scenario. But managing it in the short to mid term is a challenge and I’d love to know more about how you think PPS should handle it. We are an excellent school district that has committed to serving 800+ special ed students; we fund a Charter school so families have the option to be part of a higher-achieving (per standardized test scores), smaller-scale, school community; we’re technologically up to date for the most part. Where do you think our limited resources are best spent? Thanks!

  • Liz Winslow

    Excellent argument. Please keep making it!

  • CharterMom

    In relation to kids with significant disabilities who need services in expensive special ed programs such as the Princeton autism program or out of district placements, PPS is required under Federal and State law to pay to educate these kids. This obligation exists, whether these kids are sent out of district or to special programs by PCS (which PPS is obliged to approve and pay for) or if these kids are are so transferred by PPS. These expenses are PPS’s regardless of whether PCS even exists. Thus, it is a falsity for PPS to assert that somehow PCS is shifting any special ed burden or costs onto PPS. Moreover, PPS and other anti-charter folks asserting that the testing comparisons between the schools is invalid because PPS has so many special ed kids, is belied by the fact that the most disabled children and many for home testing is a problem (those with ADHD, dyslexia etc.) either chose not to participate or are exempted under their IEPS from PARCC testing – I also refer you specifically to the big movement in Princeton to opt-out of PARCC.

  • Steve Fu

    I value freedom and choice and polite discourse. So I’m not asking everyone else to pay for it. We all have the right to vote accordingly with our feet, ie., moving if we feel taxes are too high or vote for new elected officials to change school system. Calling it “foolishness” does a disservice to all the hardworking teachers and administrators at PCS. I gave willingly to PTO at Riverside, I give willingly to Princeton Education Foundation, I give willingly to PHS PTO. I’m voting by actions and pocketbook. I live in Princeton and pay the higher taxes because I feel that I receive a very fair return in schools, police, fire, etc. Please do not speak for me “Princeton taxpayers are already grievously overcharged”, I am not aggrieved whatsoever or feel overcharged. If you feel aggrieved I can respect that.

  • Liz Winslow

    Let’s take this down a notch, and I pose a serious question. When is the last time you had kids in the schools, and were you the primary parent dealing with your kids’ education? Princeton Public Schools’ bureaucracies are not restricted to paid employees.

    Through my husband I’ve met one of the original founding couples of PCS, and I respect them immensely. They were not rich. They were simply committed enough to the idea of a quality public education that they moved here, and paid these very high taxes to get, yet never did. And they created a model.

    Why is it that with almost universal satisfaction from Charter, and a 4x oversubscribed lottery every year, PPS isn’t doing some serious self-reflection about why 20% of its students actively leave or try to leave for Charter every year, let alone the others who move away, go to private, or muddle along unhappily? Why is THAT never on the table?

    I could find it within me to lend a pretty sympathetic ear and want to find ways to work together if I could believe that those offers came from a place of good faith at PPS, of wanting to learn why, as Steve Fu said, so many parents are voting with their feet. Instead, it sounds to me like PPS just thinks it’s going to absorb PCS’s facility and magic might happen. Convince me there’s good will, and I’m all ears.

  • Fezziwig

    Perhaps if I’d gone to charter…

    Actually what I’m saying is quite simple: As a taxpayer I do not wish to pay an extra $140 (as the gentleman above proposed), or $14 or $1.40 to support the expansion of the charter school. That’s it and there’s nothing inconsistent about it.

    I oppose the charter school for a number of reasons, but perhaps chief among them is the fact that its mere existence is an enabler (even perpetuator) of mediocrity across the rest of the system. You say your child did not receive adequate services/assistance in the conventional schools. I do not find that hard to believe, nor do I believe that you are unique. But here’s the thing: if those who consider themselves ill-served in one way or another by the regular public schools can simply “opt out” and take their complaints and potential influence with them, the regular schools will never come under sufficient pressure to improve. That is the true cost of the charter school–it aims to help the few, but in the end it hurts the many. Kind of a textbook example of elitism. We’d be far better served as a community if we banded together and demanded improvement in the pre-existing schools, rather than conjuring up a better “choice” for some circumscribed group of kids, generally speaking those thought by their parents to be too smart or too precious for the plebeian halls of CP or JW. Now instead of “we’ve got some challenges here in the school system and we need to fix them,” it’s “thank god, I got a space in the lottery, so I’ve got mine, the rest of you suckers can lump it with the disabled kids and disengaged teachers.” But I’m the cold-hearted and greedy one in your view. Interesting.

  • Liz Winslow

    BTW, if you want to talk about grievous overcharging? I agree. Pull up a chair and let me regale you with stories of waste at PPS.

  • Liz Winslow

    My older son has an IEP, and is certainly not the only one at Charter. We’ve been only in the lower school so far, but we’ve got one more little guy coming up with disabilities – so far they don’t seem intellectual, but let’s see how it goes – I’d probably give PCS a try for him too. It’s not just curriculum. Mrs. LaMont is not only so loving and confidence-inspiring, but the things she got those kindergarteners to do and love? I’d want to try.

  • Liz Winslow

    One of my first ever jobs in the real world caused me to be standing in a Philadelphia public school during the free breakfast – when the cafeteria roof partially collapsed with me, and all those little kids, in it. A lot of Princeton has lost all contact with reality about what’s necessary at a school.

  • Liz Winslow

    You know what they say, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you… well, Cochrane seems to be on to the fight part. I trust you remember how the rest of the quote goes.

    My elderly parents subsidize their school district, too. Your point makes no sense. But that’s OK, because it’s of a piece of the rest of the nonsense you’ve posted. Seriously, explain to me how I’m *wrong* that you think an OK deal is kid goes to PPS and PPS keeps 100%; a bad deal is kid doesn’t go to PPS but PPS still keeps 10%; but a fantastic deal is kid doesn’t go to PPS but PPS keeps 100%. Do you not see the inconsistency of your position?

  • Fezziwig

    And BTW, in point of fact, I’m the one subsidizing your kids, not the other way around. My kids haven’t attended public school here in years.

  • Fezziwig

    I figured you’d be along soon. Always good for a laugh. You do have quite an imagination, I’ll grant you that. Sell your plasma! Good one! Funnier still is your assertion that not wanting to pay yet more taxes for a relatively few kids to receive some special something that every kid should already be receiving based on what we pay makes me greedy. Keep on keeping on.

  • Liz Winslow

    Fezziwig, are you aware that while the money follows the child, it’s only to a point? PPS holds back 10% of the funding for Charter students specifically for overhead (and PCS still outperforms PPS). But your glib statement to “pony up for private school” is something. It’s not enough that PPS gets to keep 10% and not have to educate our kids; now you say they should keep 100% and we should pay twice (newsflash: PCS parents pay taxes, too) to send our kids to private? And you’re implying PCS parents are the more leech-like? Seriously?
    Imagined conversation:

    Liz: I pay $16-$17k a year in taxes. My son had a terrible time in school, and I couldn’t get him help. I send him to PCS because of this.
    Fezziwig: Tough. Pony up $30k for private.
    Liz: But how? You keep all my taxes. I’m not rich. What about a voucher?
    Fezziwig: Sorry. You have plasma. Sell it. Thanks for subsidizing my kids, though. Good luck!

    Is that about right? Does it maybe make you see how cold hearted AND greedy you sound?

  • Fezziwig

    In my view, yes, it is too much. Why not have Charter charge those who can afford it a nominal fee to attend and close the gap that way? Princeton taxpayers are already grievously overcharged for the schools compared to comparable communities. And you want everyone to put up MORE so a relatively small number of kids can receive some purported benefit that’s not available to all? I respect that your kids have had a good experience at charter, and that’s great. But I must say that much of the PCS rhetoric is transparently disingenuous. Describing charter as being about “choice” is a nice way of dodging the very obvious elitism that underpins the school’s appeal to so many. It’s a “choice” just like opting to go to Harvard vs. Mercer County Community College is a “choice,” or driving a new car vs. a 20-year-old rusted out beater with bald tires is a “choice.” Come on–the vast majority of PCS parents are sold on the idea that it’s “better” academically, and sets their kids apart, as a cut above the common folk. Who wouldn’t “choose” that if that’s what they believed? Similarly silly is the old “look how popular it is–that’s proof that it deserves to exist.” Well, if I opened a stand in Palmer Square serving free gourmet coffee–paid for by taxpayers–I’d have a line around the block every morning. Should we all pay for that? Indeed, getting something for nothing (in the case of charter, some simulacrum of private school) is a universally popular idea. But I’m not sure the mere popularity of any publicly funded enterprise makes a persuasive argument that funding it is perforce a worthwhile use of taxpayer money.

  • Dennis

    $24,000/year per student?! That is stupefying. Does anyone think if that was cut by $5,000 or $10,000/pupil our students would be unable to learn? If we reduced much of the peripheral support staff in the school district who are not in the classroom we could reduce those fixed costs Mr. Cochrane references. Our school district has become as bloated as our universities.

  • Liz Winslow

    Beautifully said. But of course now the argument’s goalposts will be moved to “Liz Winslow’s and CharterMom’s kids aren’t the right kind of expensive special ed.” Whether that’s true or not, I don’t think actually matters to some of these folks. They have their argument and they’re sticking to it.

  • CharterMom

    Just not true on lip service. We certainly serve kids with lots of disabilities that can also handle and thrive in a rigorous academic environment. No, if I had a child with intellectual deficits, I would not choose to send him or her to PCS. However, we have kids thriving in our classrooms who are diagnosed with autism (and have aides and other services), ADHD (receiving accommodations and related services), dyslexia (receiving OG, reading, math services) etc. These children are being served and challenged. As a parent of a child with a disability that attended both PPS and PCS, I can tell you with certainty that my child and many of his friends with disabilities were/are much better off at PCS, where they are expected and taught how to excel in classroom despite their disabilities.

  • CharterMom

    I would hope they could share as many resources as possible. Let’s get the dialogue going on what makes sense for both districts and the community as a whole. I do think that PPS can, if they are really being honest, see PCS as a valuable means to decreasing their K-2 classrooms, and using those teachers and classroom space to service kids in other grades — rather than applying a false economy of scale to rationalize why the expansion of PCS will hurt the district
    .

  • CharterMom

    As a parent of a PCS student, since graduated, with special needs and an IEP, who also went to school prior at PPS, I can attest to the fact that the services my son received at PCS far exceeded the services and accommodations provided to him at PPS. He was challenged by PCS’s academics and provided all the accommodations and services that he needed, in a smaller school setting where he thrived. Word is getting out on how great PCS is at special ed and more and more students with IEPS and 504s are attending PCS. Yet our academics remain rigorous, and testing shows that all of our children, including those are thriving and reaching for the stars as is their right!

  • Steve Fu

    As someone who owns 2 homes in Princeton and pay my fair share of property taxes I disagree with the “stick the rest of the bill” rationale. I have 3 kids in Princeton, 2 of whom started at Riverside before moving onto PCS, and now the oldest attend PHS. Charter school is about choice for parents that want a different experience for their kids. If PCS did not succeed in its original mandate, it would not have lasted this long and the oversubscribed lottery attest to parents voting with their feet. If PCS did not full-fill a community need then it would close down due to lack of interest. We are all neighbors and taxpayers sharing the resources of this wonderful community. With over 10,000 households in Princeton that $1.4m gap would be for simple math $140 per household. I for one would gladly pay that extra cost now and into the future so that even when my children are no longer at PCS but at PHS that other families in Princeton can experience PCS. So the question I pose is “$140-$200” extra per year too much to ask so that others in the future can have the same opportunities?

  • FreshAir

    Dan D’Menny – Don’t understand your “…put up or shut up” comment, if you’re addressing me. Alternatives & accommodations are a necessary part of all US school systems. Every child deserves a comfortable setting for learning & opportunities to advance well. As for money “put up”, taxpaying residents here are doing their part, & I’m one of them. More tax dollars are provided by taxpayers here every year than any other town in our region. Our rateables grow annually too, through expansion that’s clearly measurable, known, & anticipated well in advance. Problems in this District come from the top down, as PRS hemorrhages money while saying no to our teachers & the public at every turn. It’s time for thoughtful, knowledgeable folks with absolutely no conflict of interest (not employed by PRS & not parents of current students), to analyze the District’s challenges & educate PRS administrators & our community about proper logistics, proper accommodations, proper financial management, proper space utilization, etc.) We’re a less efficient District than others, falling below the performance of neighboring Districts. We have always had a talented, diverse, student population to educate… that too is absolutely nothing new. Administrators cannot continually wring their hands blaming all this on the student mix here, while denying the realities of the job we’ve hired them to do.

  • Liz Winslow

    As a PCS special ed parent – THANK YOU.

  • Liz Winslow

    Repeating mischaracterizations from your comment in the first article doesn’t make them true, Joe.

  • Joe

    Charter schools drain funds and resources from the public schools, district schools. They are designed that way. Charter schools are not created to cooperate with the district schools, they are designed to compete with the district schools. Charter schools are like separate school districts unto themselves; they duplicate administrative positions, secretarial and financial officers. It’s a parallel school system. Princeton Regional schools are high performing schools, they are not failure factories as Chris Christie might claim. The PCS operates as an elite private school that caters to a small fraction of the school age population and certainly does not educate the same percentages of special needs or at risk students as the district schools.

  • Dan D’Menny

    In terms of financial efficiency the Charter school wins hands down with normal, non-elitist, random (yet admittedly self-selected) Princeton school-kids. If 400 more kids joined the Charter school, would Steve Cochrane claim that the Charter school is costing taxpayers money, or would there be savings from consolidating 4 elementary schools into 3?

    The only financial argument that the anti-Charters continue to bring up is that PCS doesn’t pay its “fair share” for special needs kids whose families don’t sign up for the Charter school because their needs can’t be met there. Ok, so put up or shut up, please:

    How many kids in the District are special needs? By category please?
    How much does it cost to educate them per year? By category, please?
    What portion of the budget is this, per overall student (by grade)? $5,000, $20,000?
    And is the PRS District identifying ways to deliver a T&E education to these kids in an economical manner?

    I would be much more open to the anti-Charter folks financial arguments if this $$number could get quantified and we could understand if/whether the PCS argument for financial efficiency is based on escaping this expense.

    Or maybe, the public school monopoly hates the idea of allowing their taxpayer/clients the choice to go elsewhere.

  • ReasonEnough

    Probably better academics. PCS pays lip service to federal and state requirements for special ed but would you send a kid with intellectual disabilities there and hope for a good outcome on the back of inclusion? It is elite but not in the sense of socio-economic. It is elite on the basis of smarts and academics. The rest can take whatevers left of the public system, which will be the last nail for diversity on the basis of ability and special needs. That being said, one would hope that some of the systemic problems that cause people to flood to PCS (many hundreds more would do so if they could) would be addressed before its too late.

  • FreshAir

    I have no opinion one way or the other about Charter schools. Aside from the safety pin & the paper clip, pros & cons in most of man’s ideas can be found. But, like them or not, charter schools are here to stay. And, believe it or not, “the elite” are not in our charters. Given the vast amount of funds provided for PRS, every student should have a good experience here. And I don’t mean we should buy the “cutting edge” nonsense Cochrane is spouting. Our District hasn’t achieved “cutting edge” status & may never. Let’s just keep it real. Every kid matters & should come first. Let’s teach them excellence by example. Let’s ask the staff hired to manage this District to come in from recess & sharpen their pencils. The kids & teachers are at their desks & already doing their best.

  • FreshAir

    Given the boatloads of cash Princeton taxpayers deliver to our District, it’s troubling that the large, well paid PRS administrative staff is continually caught off guard by predictable community needs & expectations. Charter school or no charter school, it’s time to call in independent experts to assess & restructure this District. This is necessary, because each resident household in Princeton is already paying loads more in school taxes than comparable households in other NJ counties. The teachers of PRS are, for the most part, terrific. They aren’t responsible for the heinous management of PRS. Let’s discover why the vast resources we taxpayers already provide aren’t enough to make everyone happy here. Continual District chaos & bad management are unacceptable. Please, all you brilliant citizens out there, apply wisdom & save this sinking ship! S.O.S!!!!

  • PeterS

    If 3600 students switch to (hypothetically) expanded PCS, that would leave only about 100 students in public schools. Our public schools would lose about 97% of state funds in that case.
    I can’t imagine that superintendent would still stick to the same budget. Would he?

    I understand that public schools can’t adapt quickly to new reality, and they are not that flexible (cost to heat/cool the classroom is the same for 20 or 22 students), but we should ask why parents are enrolling kids to charter schools?

    Convenience?
    Better programs?
    Diversity?

    If charter school is expanding, they would probably hire teacher[s].
    Can public school and charter school share human resources?

  • Fezziwig

    Finally, someone speaks up about this needless siphoning of resources to benefit the elite. If your kid is so “special,” “gifted,” or whatever that he or she “needs” something other than the public schools that are good enough for everyone else, pony up for private school (they do offer financial aid to those who genuinely need it, by the way)–don’t stick the rest of us with the bill. This charter school foolishness needs to end, not expand.

Events Calendar

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Sat 27

Trenton Pork Roll Festival 2017

May 27 @ 10:00 am - 10:00 pm
Sat 27

8th Annual New Jersey Renaissance Faire

May 27 @ 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Sat 27

Wondrous on Witherspoon Pop Up Art Gallery

May 27 @ 12:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Sun 28

Mercer County Memorial Day Ceremony

May 28 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
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