Letters: Charter School Expansion Doesn’t Help Princeton Public Schools

Dear Editor,

The Princeton Charter School expansion is not the right decision for our Community.

The PCS trustees’ proposal seeks 76 more students, 60 of whom will be in grades K-2, at a cost of $1.16 million dollars that will be taken out of our existing school budget each year.

The trustees of Princeton Charter School claim that by taking 60 children in grades K-2, from Princeton’s 4 Elementary schools, plus taking $1.16 million dollars each year from the current Princeton Public Schools budget, the expansion will help the Princeton Public Schools with their enrollment issues. It will not.

First, enrollment at Princeton High School has been steadily rising for years and is already at or above capacity. None of the new 76 Princeton Charter School “seats” will help PHS.

Second, in the past two years, John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS) enrollment has ballooned. The district must have the funds in its upcoming budget season to hire more staff, in order to maintain/readjust class sizes and maintain programs there. As explained above, the bulk of the Princeton Charter School expansions proposal would call for taking 60 children currently in grades K-2, from the 4 Princeton elementary schools . That does nothing to lessen JWMS’s enrollment.

Third, the PCS proposal calls for an additional few kids per grade, in grades 4-8. This will take out only a handful of students from JWMS, spread over the three grades there. This will not affect enrollment, nor will it lessen the need for the district to hire more staff there. If charter school expansion happens, JWMS will still have almost the same number of kids, therefore will still need the same resources and teachers. Fixed costs remain the same! and as a result, we will not have the money to staff those needed new sections. Once again, the PCS expansion does not help JWMS. As a matter of fact it further weakens JWMS now and in the future.

Lastly, the majority of children PCS would take would come from three grades across the 4 elementary schools, which aren’t experiencing a crowding issue. Even if they were, the expansion as proposed would not meaningfully help.

So, if the PCS expansion doesn’t help PHS, doesn’t help JWMS, isn’t needed in the 4 elementary schools, and only weakens the excellent Princeton Public Schools as a whole, why is it being forced on our community?

Wendy Vasquez


  1. You make some good points Wendy, why indeed!

    I claim ignorance of the process by which the PCS proposal will be evaluated and by whom. Can someone offer any info, such as who are the decision makers? Is there a formal public comment phase, or is this up to the discretion of an individual at the state level? If the process is open, other than letters, like nicely written one above, what can an average person do to have some influence on the outcome?

    1. The amendment application submitted by PCS was due to the Commissioner of NJ Dept of Education (the decision maker) by 1 December 2016. Responses from the public, from PPS, from legislators, and any other individual or organization/association are due to the Commissioner by 1 February 2017. Here’s a link to the contact info for the current, acting NJ DOE Commissioner: https://www.state.nj.us/education/genfo/overview/commiss.htm Correspondence can be directed there. Princeton constituents can also contact their state legislators, Andrew Zwicker, Jack Ciattarelli, Kip Bateman by phone regarding the amendment application as those three can submit position letters and/or advocate on behalf of constituents to the DOE as well.

    2. Bill,
      Here is a list of legislators you can contact to voice your your opposition to the expansion of the Charter School. Sadly, we don’t get to vote on this issue. The decision lies solely in the hands of the Commissioner of Education (no vote there either), who is appointed by the Governor. Furthermore, the current commissioner is “acting” so she has no long term skin in the game. I encourage everyone to let their voice be heard. Tell our legislators we need them to oppose this expansion and to put pressure on the Commissioner to deny the Charter School request.

      1) Senator Christopher Bateman: (908) 526-3600

      2) Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli: (908) 450-7064

      3) Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker: (609) 454-3147

      4) Kimberley Harrington, Department of Education, 100 Riverview Plaza, Trenton, NJ 08625

  2. Nicely said, Wendy. I agree wholeheartedly. It’s not fair (or good policy) that the children in all of the PPS schools should have programs cut or class sizes increase so that a small number of kids can start PCS in Kindergarten instead of 3rd grade.

  3. Well said Wendy. I agree this makes no sense. The children in all 6 PPS schools should lose programs and/or have larger classes so that twenty or so students each year can start PCS in Kindergarten instead of 3rd grade? It comes down to an allocation of resources, and it ought to be decided by our elected board of education, who are responsible to all the children of our town.

  4. Ameliorating overcrowding in the PPS was just one of the justifications offered up by the Charter School in support of its expansion plan.

    Moreover, that justification is by no means the driving force behind Charter’s plan. You might want to take another look at what the Board and Administration are after and why.

  5. Dear Ms. Vasquez: You should go on Youtube and watch the entire December PPS Board meeting. The Board discussed how they were going to handle the influx of children from recent construction in town. Many of the kids (105 of 178) are entering K-5 and are coming from the new graduate housing. These kids will not be attending the High School as will no doubt move with their graduate school parents once they finish graduate programming in Princeton. They will, however, keep coming as the graduate school turns over their students – and the graduate school housing is only partially occupied so the numbers at the K-5 level will only be increasing over time.

    The PPS board then spoke about the fact that they were so desperate for space in the K-5 schools that they would need to use Spanish classrooms and put the Spanish teachers on carts to make room for these kids. The also discussed the fact that they were on the hunt for other rooms in the K-5 buildings that they could convert to classroom space. The PPS board also talked about construction and bonds that they would need to explore to alleviate the increases – at all levels.

    Only 30 or so each of the new kids in town who will be entering JW and also the HS, are coming from the new construction, who can obviously be served at JW and the HS without significantly impacting an overcrowding issues at these school and will not likely impact these schools in the future, as most of the new kids from the construction, as indicated above, will be K-5.

    The overcrowding at the HS level existed long before the expansion was proposed by PCS. It is caused by the 330 kids from Cranbury – PPS is only paid 17K per kid when its overall budget with debt service of 5 million a year (mostly caused by construction at the HS) is 24K per student. PPS should be looking to get out of this contract to make room at the HS level, rather than pointing a finger at PCS.

Comments are closed.