Planet Princeton

Fact Check: Will the Princeton Charter School Expansion Lead to the Firing of 15 Teachers?

Materials being circulated by some opponents of the Princeton Charter School expansion claim that 15 teachers in the school district would be fired if the charter school is allowed to expand. This claim is false. It is still unclear what the impact of a possible charter school expansion would be in terms of staffing at the Princeton Public Schools.

Princeton Superintendent of School Steve Cochrane said if the charter school expansion is approved by the state, the funding that would move to the charter school is equivalent to 15 or more teachers.

“I have not said 15 teachers would be fired,” Cochrane told Planet Princeton Thursday. “What I have stated is that the charter school would have to hire 3 maybe 4 teachers to educate the additional 76 students by which it wants to expand its enrollment – students whom the district, by the way, is already educating within the parameters of its budget. The district, on the other hand, would have to pay the charter school nearly $ 1.2 million in tuition for those 76 students, which would represent a loss equivalent to more than 15 teachers.”

Cochrane said he mentioned the numbers of teachers for the purposes of comparison and to illustrate what he says is the economic and educational unfairness of the charter school’s proposal to expand its enrollment.

“The district has rising enrollments, so we are looking both to retain the excellent teachers we already have and to actually hire more,” Cochrane said. “Whether that is possible remains to be seen. If we do not make cuts in personnel, we will have to make significant cuts in programs.”

Or the school board would have to raise taxes or find other sources of revenue.

“We are glad that the superintendent has clarified that our expansion will not cause the firing of 15 teachers, as has been implied to stoke fear and create division in our community,” said Paul Josephson, head of the Princeton Charter School Board of Trustees.

District officials originally estimated that the Princeton Public Schools would lose about $1.5 million in funding annually if the charter school is allowed to expand. Charter school representatives challenged that number and said it was under $1.2 million. District officials later changed the figure to $1.18 million.

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

    And our outgoing BoE president said that it would be equivalent to having a giant class of 38 for K, then walked that back immediately when a PCS parent challenged her whether that would actually happen. These are rhetorical scare tactics. Perhaps PPS should focus on things like not spending $40k on an elementary school garden (the latest example I’ve seen circulating about money supposedly well-spent), and the less than 1% per year of PPS’s budget this expansion would represent would be a non-issue. Heck, maybe we could even avoid an annual property tax raise as a given… imagine that!

  • Liz Winslow

    It currently cannot. It is planning to in the future. Present vs. future tenses.
    Unless, of course, you’re listening to PPS talk out of both sides of its mouth about losing students on the one hand and being overcrowded on the other, then sure, you can swing the data any way you want.

    But if it’s patently false, please post a correction.

  • CharterMom

    Ms Knapp: is there any way you could check another fact? Cochrane stated that the 1.2 million for the PCS expansion is the cost of the entire PHS Athletics budget. Some PPS parents including the PPS Facebook page have interpreted this comment to mean that if the PCS expansion takes place, the entire PHS athletics budget will be cut. I suspect this is another misinterpretation of Conchrane’s statement – I and many others would love some clarity on this question.

  • Princeton resident

    your clarification confirms that you saying “PPS currently cannot” accommodate students is patently false.

  • Liz Winslow

    Sorry Krystal that I keep messing this up – take three without a link!

    I think my original comment got stuck in the mod queue as it had a
    link – but you are quoting JSR herself there. If one googles “Julia
    Sass Rubin ethics charges” there are impartial pieces run by a regional news source, The Daily Targum, etc.

    Nobody’s trying to silence her (far from it – some of us would love her to talk more about her mathematics and methodology!). The issue was that the way she was releasing her work gave it the imprimatur of the university,
    and of course that affects perception. When I was in the working
    world, if I had something to say in any venue that at all touched on my industry, as a matter of habit I’d instantly state that I was not speaking for my employer, just for myself. Most professionals do this. Why is expecting the same from JSR called an intimidation tactic?

  • CharterMom

    I don’t think its gross inaccuracies being circulated by PCS but the other way around. PPS is talking out of both sides of its mouth. Most of the kids 105 of 178 coming into the district are K-5 kids, (from graduate school housing that will not likely stay in Princeton and attend the High School – so K-5 will likely be hit on an ongoing basis not the HS).

    in the last board meeting PPS said transferring these kids to PCS will not decrease the number of PPS class rooms (K-2) (even though it is over three classrooms of kids). PPS then spent the second part of the meeting talking about how the K-5 classrooms are overcrowded, they were looking for classroom space to serve these kids (and would have to put Spanish on a cart and find any possible rooms to convert to classroom space). The PPS Board then went onto discuss possible construction and bonds to pay for construction to cover the increase in students in town (this is over the 1.7 million tax waiver they just got approved by Trenton that our community will have to pay for without a vote). Egregious.

    The overcrowding at the hight school level has long been an issue, growing worse every year, and is essentially caused by the 330 Cranbury kids that PPS is being paid 17K for in tuition — much less than the 24K per student cost reflected in the PPS budget – why are we subsidizing Cranbury? The contract runs in a few years — if PPS does not have the money to cover all kids at PHS, it should be talking about canceling the PPS/Cranbury contract in the next few years instead of construction and bonds – and pointing a finger at PCS for causing problems that have existed for years.

    Somebody on PPS’s side has to sharpen the pencil and figure out how much money it will save by not having to build and pay new teachers to cover the increase in K-5 that will be alleviated by the PCS expansion. We all know that its is very unlikely that the athletics program at the HS will be cut by PPS under any circumstance. This assertion is meant to be alarmist and rally the PPS troops.

    It is now time for PPS to judiciously cut some fat from the HS so Princeton kids (not Cranbury kids) can attend the school and still enjoy a great education here. This should have been done a long time ago, regardless of the PCS expansion. I am tired of my taxes going up so that I can pay for Cranbury kids to attend our schools while not paying for any of the infrastructure that has been put in place for their benefit (5 million in debt service per year).

    I agree that everyone should get together and talk. PCS reached out to PPS to talk prior to the expansion. PPS dragged its heels and rather than meeting with PCS, it put Julia Rubin on display at its Board meeting – who, frankly, put together a powerpoint that was rife with disinformation. Cochrane’s statement, which was later published, was meant to fan the flames, threatening loss of teachers and athletics at the high school – this was followed by a Facebook campaign based on more misinformation, where PPS parents are being told that they will lose all sorts of resources if PCS expansion goes through, and then a lawsuit that has no basis and which the district will no doubt lose.

    I can’t see how the two school reconcile until PPS is willing to admit that taking out three classrooms of kids will alleviate at least some of the pressure, drop the lawsuit and look at how it can operate moving forward in a more fiscally responsible way, without taxing our community even more.

  • Liz Winslow

    To clarify: PPS has said it does not have space for the anticipated influx of students, and is commissioning studies about how to increase that space.

  • Princeton resident

    “accommodating students that PPS currently cannot” . what can you possibly mean by this?? PPS must, and does, accommodate EVERY student.

  • Liz Winslow

    1) Yes, you should understand what your own argument says. 2) Cutting ELL, special needs, etc.? You’re flat out making this up and should apologize for lying. Less than 100% of the money would follow the child to PCS, and the tax base is increasing as population does. The proper response from PPS should hardly be a lawsuit; it should be thanks for accommodating students that PPS currently cannot. As for numbers, as I said in another comment in another article:

    First, Larry Patton (head
    of PCS) wrote a detailed rebuttal to JSR’s “numbers” in the Princeton Packet this week.
    Second, I am an accountant by training and spent many hours with the
    audited financials of PPS, as I was tired of hearing the canard that
    cost per pupil was not apples to apples. Stripping out full time
    special ed students and PCS students from BOTH the numerator and
    denominator (something JSR did not do), along with the cost of bilingual
    ed, results in a whopping cost of $27,000 per student, spread across
    the district, that PPS is spending. It’s madness. It’s also a long
    calculation, so I leave it to Krystal if she’d like it from me to
    fact-check and post before I post a multi-page long comment.

    The
    Packet article posts the MSGPs as well, and it’s breathtaking how
    terribly some of PPS’s elementaries are doing. Given that PPS remits
    less to PCS (and ratables will be going up with development) than in its
    debt service every year (which it wants to increase), I’m surprised
    parents aren’t at school board meetings demanding to know why their
    children’s progress is so shoddy.

    Also keep in mind that JSR is
    the ultimate person with an ax to grind – brought up on ethics charges
    for misusing her Rutgers position to further her anti-Charter crusade,
    and even better, organizing her movement *while her own daughter
    attended PCS.* It’s not an ad hominem if it goes directly to the
    credibility of the argument being made.

    But yes, a nuisance
    lawsuit – one more brilliant, mature, well-reasoned use of taxpayer
    dollars. It’s almost like PPS sees itself as a club/employment agency
    than as a custodian of taxpayer money, isn’t it?

  • Blake Cash

    More honestly, they would not have the funds to educate seventy six students. Fortunately, they won’t have to.

  • Robert Dana

    It may be that the Mr. Cochrane never said that 15 teachers would be fired.

    However, in this age of spin, sound bites and receptive audiences, the misinterpretation of the Superintendent’s statement was not only reasonably foreseeable but likely intended.

  • krystalknapp

    Amy, no problem. We appreciate you engaging and welcome all critiques and comments that are within our guidelines. Son’t worry, we have a thick skin. Just trying to clarify the facts. There are plenty of valid points and important points to be made without the spreading of misinformation. Thanks for commenting. Appreciated.

  • Amy Mayer

    And by the way, I do appreciate all you do for this town in providing coverage of local issues. Sorry for the intemperate tone earlier.

  • Amy Mayer

    I’m sorry to hear that and I hope they are reassured. Everywhere I have seen that figure it’s been clear that it is meant to be illustrative. Usually it’s “the cost of the athletic program or 15 teachers.” I guess no one takes cutting the entire athletic program seriously? Anyway, I encourage anyone who is against cuts to the PPS budget to lobby the Commissioner of Education against the PCS expansion. Look here for more info: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=keep%20pps%20strong

  • krystalknapp

    If you were a teacher and your job was on the line, wouldn’t you want to know? That was our main reason for posting this fact check. Some teachers are in a panic. Also, when people are saying 15 teachers will be fired, they make it sound certain and not figurative. The superintendent’s comments are much clearer.

  • Amy Mayer

    Wow. With all the gross inaccuracies being circulated by PCS, we should spend time parsing whether “15 teachers” was meant to be literal or illustrative? Same point with regard to the total cost of the expansion. It’s about $1.16M or $1.18M or $1.4M annually. In any case, it’s funds that would have to be cut from programs serving all of PPS’s diverse student body, including significant numbers of low-income children, English language learners, children with special needs, and high school students taking AP classes (none of which Charter has) in order to accommodate 20 or so kids per year starting Charter three years earlier, in Kindergarten instead of 3rd grade. It wouldn’t make sense to me, even with one less zero.

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