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Letters for and against Princeton Charter School expansion

The Value of Charter Schools

Dear Editor,

I’m writing in support of Princeton Charter School’s expansion. Our experience of the school has been overwhelmingly positive, and the education provided our daughter over the past 5 years, extraordinary. She will go on to high school equipped to do work at the highest level of challenge and achievement, and we feel deeply fortunate that she had the chance to thrive in an atmosphere of vigorous learning, aided by small school size, a highly motivated teaching staff and sense of
community that its leaders have cultivated meticulously over its 20 years in existence.

That said, our personal experience is not in itself an argument for expansion, or even for charter schools. Count me among the cynical when discussions of charter schools came up in the 80s and 90s and my fellow liberals and I found that they likely distracted resources and attention from local public schools. Why not double down on the schools at hand rather than fracture efforts by diverting those resources to new and untried projects?

The turning point came when I accepted a job as publisher of The New Republic, whose liberal credentials I’d long admired, but whose iconoclastic stances — particularly on ‘identity politics’ issues, which were anathema to them – I found particularly refreshing. In addressing complex issues head-on, and with an eye towards what benefits the community, it provided illumination on the trade-offs, not
a cheerleading section for the party. And the magazine taught me of the value of charter schools, beginning with: why not? Particularly for under-served communities, who were failing their children at catastrophic rates, why not try out new models of success that could help those children, their futures, and eventually, those communities? I agreed.

And of course, charter schools — as opposed to, in my opinion, privatized education and the range of issues introduced by, for example, current Education Secretary nominee Betsy DaVos — are at base progressive notions, which is why President Bill Clinton signed the first Charter School Program into law in l994 and kicked off a
continuous line of support from leading Democrats. Barack Obama expanded on Clinton’s leadership around charter schools, doubling funding for high-quality, public charter schools and launching “National Charter School Week.” Hillary Clinton was and is a charter school supporter, and while she was booed at the National Education Association convention last July for saying so, it’s a philosophy she’s carried since her earliest days working at the Children’s Defense Fund. Finally, Cory Booker — a progressive from the get-go — is a strong supporter of Charter Schools, in New Jersey and elsewhere.

Why? Because they all believe in bringing both the spirit of innovation that charter schools foster, and have seen how innovation drives new ideas and, in President Clinton’s words, “rapidly replicating excellence.” We’re blessed to live in a community that provides a range of excellent public schools and committed teachers, and which continues to attract new families at a record rate. Knowing that
the current expansion proposal for PCS would help alleviate crowding at the middle school; educate existing and new students with greater efficiency, from a revenue perspective; double down on attracting kids from our under-served households; and provide the current PCS students more elbow room, I’m hopeful that you’ll grant the
school’s expansion request.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Sandberg

 

Council Should Oppose Charter School Expansion

To the Editor:

I am a Princeton resident and the mother of two public school children (and a two-year-old). Six years ago, we moved to Princeton in large measure because of the high quality of the public schools. I myself am a product of New Jersey’s public education system (in Montclair, NJ), and I believe deeply in the promise of public schools to lift all members of our society through education and communal endeavor. I am writing today to urge my elected representatives to publicly oppose the Princeton Charter School’s expansion request.

While I have no doubt that PCS is a wonderful, beloved school, I am gravely concerned about the effects its expansion would have on our town’s equally wonderful and beloved public schools. The expansion would take $1.16 million away from the Princeton Public Schools’ budget, without lowering PPS’s expenses in any meaningful way. The Charter School argues that its expansion will reduce overcrowding in the public schools, but this, too, is a canard, as PCS seeks to expand precisely in the grades (K through 3) in which the Princeton Public Schools do not experience overcrowding, leaving those grades in which crowding is a problem (6 through 12) untouched.

As I see it, the budgetary shortfall PCS’s expansion would create will have two significant, harmful effects on the education my children receive. First, obviously, it will reduce the funds available to support the schools we love. Teachers will be fired, programs will be cut, and class sizes – especially at the high school, which most PCS students eventually attend – will increase.

Second, and perhaps even more perniciously, it will erode our sense of community. When the funding decisions are being made, the lack of money will pit program against program, teacher against teacher, and families against families: music will lose out to graphic art, foreign language will lose out to iPads, after-school sports will lose out to standardized test prep software. The choices forced by a reduced pot of funding won’t result in efficiency; they’ll result in fights over critical resources, and anguished decisions that divide our population and weaken the sense of togetherness that is so crucial to our schools’ success. I witnessed the painful divisions created by the negotiation of the teachers’ contract two years ago; imagine how divisive such negotiations will be when all money raised by a tax increase goes straight to the Charter School, leaving nothing to cover cost increases for the rest of us?

Finally, a point of fairness: it is deeply troubling that an issue of such vital importance to all Princeton taxpayers is made not by Princeton voters, but by an appointed state official. When I went to the polls, I did not get to vote for the acting commissioner of education; I voted for my local council members and my state senator and assemblymen. Because I have no say in this decision, I hope that my elected representatives will speak out on my behalf, arguing loudly and forcefully against both an expansion that would severely harm our prized public schools and a funding system that takes away such a critical democratic right from their constituents.

Sincerely,
Jane Manners

 

Charter School Expansion Will Harm Public Schools

To the Editor,

The high quality of our public schools, including the Princeton Charter School, is something that all Princeton residents can rightfully take great pride in. However, rising fixed costs (especially healthcare) and expanding enrollment will pose serious challenges to our ability to maintain this level of excellence. Only by coming together around creative ways to contain costs that we can all embrace will we be able to secure the strength and well-being of our schools. The recent decision by the Trustees of the Charter School to apply to the State of New Jersey to expand is the wrong move, at the wrong time and conducted in the wrong way (without any forewarning or input from the broader community and to be decided not by Princeton residents at all, but rather by the NJ Commissioner of Education). The assertions of the Charter School leadership that this move will save the public schools money are dubious and, by all the information I have seen, simply inaccurate and self-serving. By taking $1.2 million out of the public school coffers and allocating it solely to the Charter School for the 76 additional slots sought there, the existing fiscal challenges to the school system are only compounded. I urge the Board of Trustees of the Charter School to retract their application. If they truly believe (as they claim) that their move is in the broader interests of the community, they should have the courage of their convictions and delay this move until there is a consensus in the Princeton community as to its wisdom. Both the Charter School and the Princeton Public Schools are funded out of the same limited pool of resources – working together they have the best chance of ensuring the continued success of both. A house divided, however, cannot stand. If this application moves forward and is approved by the Commissioner of Education, it will only backfire on the Charter School to the extent that it both galvanizes vocal and sustained opposition from those, such as myself, who have not previously considered themselves opponents of the Charter School and undermines the quality of the very high school that the Charter School itself feeds into. So I repeat my fervent request that the Charter School leadership drop their application to expand… And I urge all residents of Princeton to voice strenuous opposition before it is too late and a chasm opens up between the Charter School and the Princeton Public Schools, to the detriment of both.

Cliff Birge

 

Princeton Charter Does Not Need to Expand

Letter to the Editor:

I must confess that we were one of those families that were seeking a “high quality alternative” in public education at Princeton. For three years, we tried PCS under the promise of a better education and teachers committed to improve the academics of our kids. The experience was not exactly as promised, not all kids received the promised great education (especially in the upper school). At the end, PCS made us feel that we were not the right demographics for the school, we ended moving back to PPS.

The argument that PCS offers a better and cost effective alternative to PPS is not quite accurate. Most of what PPS provides at no cost PCS charges to parents, which imposes an additional financial burden to low income families. The greatest impact of this, in a small school like PCS, is that it creates social disadvantages and stigmas to those families and, most importantly, to their children. Furthermore, to fully function PCS relies on family contributions which adds another layer of inequality. Parents that contribute the most enjoy better all-around treatment, especially in the upper school. After all, let’s be reminded that PCS is privately run, but publicly funded. There is no accountability when those who run the school are a small group of influential teachers and parents in the Board of Trustees.

The above has had its toll on the impact of PCS in the community. Using data from DOE/NJ, in 1998 (a year after PCS started), the demographic composition of PPS and PCS were roughly similar and closely mirroring Princeton’s. The percentage of African Americans and Hispanics students were 18% in PPS and 12% in PCS, Census of 2000 shows 12% for the town. Seventeen years later, in 2015, these two groups represented 19% of the student body in PPS and just 6% of PCS, Census of 2010 shows that African Americans and Hispanics represented 14% of Princeton. The percentages of students in free/reduced lunch show even bigger differences, in 1998 10% of students were in the program at PPS while PCS did not have any; by 2015 those percentages increased to 13% for PPS and only to 2% for PCS. These numbers show that in almost twenty years of its existence, PCS has been unable to provide access to “high level education” to minority groups that have been traditionally marginalized and to low income families in general.

In my opinion and own experience, I strongly believe that the Princeton Charter School does not need an expansion, it needs a serious makeover or a definite shutdown.

Veronica Olivares Weber

 

Closing of the Princeton Mind?

I’m writing to express my support for Princeton Charter School ( PCS ) and its planned expansion. As a parent of a charter school student, I’m baffled by the degree of corrosive and antagonistic pushback coming from the Princeton school district over a modest and perfectly logical expansion plan of PCS. I feel like I’m witnessing the closing of the collective Mind of Princeton.

I ask the dear reader to at least temporarily suspend your pre-conceived notion of Charter School, and mull over a few facts. Perhaps you will also like to ponder some of my questions. More on those later. With that, let’s start with two undisputed facts.

Fact One, despite what you might hear, PCS cost the town of Princeton, at least one third less per student. In fact, PCS is reimbursed $ 13,217 dollars for each student. The district of Princeton on the other hand, clocks in with expenses at $ 21,341 per student. For interested readers, this makes Princeton number ONE in cost for its peer group across the entire state of New Jersey.  I ask the dear reader does making the argument that the District can’t afford Charter make any sense?

Fact Two Princeton Charter School outperforms 99% of all the public schools in the State of New Jersey in Math and 89% in Language Arts. (As measured by the student growth percentiles (PCS) the Official means the state uses to determine progress)

I’ll be the first to admit that PCS is not for every child …but if your child could flourish in a more challenging environment. Isn’t it nice that you and your child have a choice here in Princeton?  You won’t be alone. The word is out and, at present nearly 100 families are on the waiting list for PCS. What better way to serve the community then a modest expansion of 3 classrooms to offer more desks for better outcomes at a significantly lower cost to taxpayers?

To be clear, Princeton has a very good education system filled with many many wonderful and caring teachers. We are blessed. However, no school is perfect for every child, offering parents a choice of education makes Princeton a better and stronger school system.  In a word, having competition and choice makes us stronger as a community.  For instances , Lowes, the home improvement center is better because of Home Depot, the US Post Office is radically improved because of Federal Express. Competition brings out creativity and new ways of doing things and ideally, the sharing of best practices.

It’s called progress. Apparently choice and progress are not welcome by all. Some are attempting to paint charter as an elite private school that is undermining the school district. This is completely untrue. Princeton Charter (PCS) is a public (K-8th) school open to any and all that apply. The only qualification is that you live in Princeton and that you want to go!  As I mentioned, because of its popularity, demand exceeds supply which explains why the school up to this point, employs a random lottery system to select who can occupy the current 348 available desks. The proposal is to increase a total of 76 more decks for Kindergarten through 2nd grade. FYI Parents…Charter is now accepting applicants for the Fall Semester. I recommend you stop by the next open house.

Shockingly, since PCS has announced the perfectly logical and modest expansion plans to better serve the community, the Princeton School District has instituted a series of distortions, lies and outright deceptions. Rather than address the facts, the school district is hoping that a barrage of negative headlines will sway busy parents into ignoring some troubling signs within the district itself. An open mind might wonder why such an overreaction to stifle success?  What ever happened to watering the flowers?

Parents and taxpayers might be appalled and quite disappointed to see how the district leadership has responded. Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Steven Cochrane without even a conversation or a look at the plan, was quoted as saying“I stand in firm opposition to this proposed expansion of the PCS, not out of any ill will for the Charter School, but because the expansion would significantly undermine the quality of education we are able to provide to our students in this district,”

What did he just say? This sounds like classic doublespeak and a bit of a head scratcher for anyone with a grasp of the facts, which seem to escape even a cursory consideration from Mr. Cochrane.

Another comment is even more telling, having been quoted in Planet Princeton in December “called for the charter school to consolidate with the district “ This vailed sanctimonious threat of wanting to fold in Charter school, I suspect belies  Mr. Cochrane’s dream to reestablish an education monopoly. To me, this makes as much sense as turning over Federal Express to the Post Office to improve efficiency, service and outcomes.

With that mind still open, I ask you to ponder the questions below that I have listed for our School Superintendent, Mr. Steven C. Cochrane and you decide if the school district is working for you as a parent and/ or taxpayer

My Questions:

·        What on earth is going at John Witherspoon School?   I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t seeing things but it’s true, according to NJ state official numbers, JW ranks 26% in peer percentile score in Math and a ground hugging 17% in Language Arts.  The state wide numbers are slightly better but is this is what you call a quality education?

Please tell the parents of Princeton what exactly you are doing to fix this.  I wonder, might your time be better served by focusing on your current responsibilities?

·      Why have you adopted such an adversarial position by spreading misleading and distorted facts about PCS   and why sir are you spending tax payer money to sue Charter, while talking about “working together “

·      Why has the school district seen fit over the last 10 years to hire 2 additional full time employees for every 3 additional students? (130 additional full time employee’s added vs 198 more students)  And still deliver middle of the pack scores?

·      Please explain why parents/taxpayers are not entitled to a choice that is best for their child? Why are you not pro-choice? Why do you want Charter “folded in “

·      Why are almost 100 families in Princeton on the waiting list for Charter School? And why are they not entitled to more seats to meet the overwhelming demand?

·      Why are you claiming that the expansion of Charter would take away the salary of 15 teachers in the district while simultaneously claiming that Charter would have to hire 3 or 4 teachers? Might this explain why your cost are out of control?  Might it be a reason why Princeton is ranked number 1 in cost across the entire state? If more teachers were the answer, why are scores so low?

Finally, dear sir, who are you working for? The teacher’s union or the children and taxpayers of Princeton?  If you had a real desire for an exceptional education system you should be embracing competition by learning and implementing best practices throughout the district. Your actions suggest a threatened bureaucrat that would strongly prefer a monopoly where the administration can go about its freewheeling hiring and delivering middle of the pack results while chanting “special education” as an excuse blanket at every turn.

It would be a refreshing sign of leadership and perhaps a “mind opening “experience for yourself  if you would stop  resorting  to throwing threats, lies and lawsuits. That sir, would require you to put the children and taxpayers of Princeton first. Are you able? As a first step, instead of more double speak, I would suggest you meet with the board of PCS and work together for the best interest of students and taxpayers, with of course, the facts and an open mind … Together I would hope we can keep the mind of Princeton open while making Princeton the best school system it can be.

Tony Gleason

Community Contributor

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  • Keith Moulton

    Thanks, Krystal. Just to clarify, for anyone else looking at these percentile numbers (26% Math, 17% Language Arts), they refer NOT to overall test performance as compared to peer schools, but to the relative GROWTH in test scores between grade 4 to grade 7/8. In particular, this metric is attempting to compare scores over the transition from the NJASK to the PARCC testing regimes, which calls for some caution, since the PARCC is not exactly a universally respected assessment in our community. In fact, as shown on page 3-4 of that same report, our schools did not come close to meeting the required participation rate for the PARCC, so I would be hesitant to draw any conclusions based on this new data.

  • krystalknapp

    It would appear that he is citing the student growth percentage methodology percentiles on page 20 of that same report.

  • Keith Moulton

    Does anyone have a source for Mr. Gleason’s peer percentile scores? The number(s) I am seeing (on page 3 of the latest NJ 2014-15 Performance Report) are rather different:
    http://www.state.nj.us/education/pr/1415/21/214255085.pdf

  • PPS supporters

    If you are unhappy take your child
    Out of riverside! Don’t complain about a community and school that is contributing to your children’s education!

  • resident

    ….which brings us back to the question, why aren’t they educating more ELLs now?

    And I think the answer is, that isn’t the purpose of the school. When PCS started, they didn’t get their approval based on some dedication to ELL, or other disadvantaged students. This wasn’t there focus. This statement is baked up by the numbers of ELLs through the years.

    You seem to be claiming NOW they really want to diversify, and teach more ELL, and if they could only expand, this would be possible. Yet the expansion information I have read makes no such claim – it just talks about their considering a weighted lottery…. And if it were PCS’s intention to do so, there is nothing stopping them from doing that today. Or yesterday. Or last year.

    Additionally, I don’t understand your claim that 76 more kids = financial capability to teach more ELL. The 76 new students come with 76 new payouts from the town, but they also come with 76 more students worth of costs. If PCS can’t afford specialized ELL material/instructors/what have you now, why would 76 more students make the difference?

    Ultimately, my opinion is, I would welcome PCS becoming more diverse. They should strive to do so in my opinion. Had they done so ten years ago, I for one would look differently on their expansion request today.

  • resident

    That’s not at all what I said. I said it was silly to blame PPS for PCS’s lack of diversity.

  • Liz Winslow

    Yes, I am confident that PCS would be able to handle several ELL students, as money follows the student and PCS has always proven itself resourceful and flexible. But I don’t understand why it’s hard to grasp that if more funding at PPS = better services there, then funding money at PCS = better services there, too.

    Does the expansion *need* to be tied to the weighted lottery? No, and I’m in favor of the weighting with or without expansion, for the record. However, would an expansion make for smoother sailing if, as is the desired outcome, PCS got an influx (more than “several”) ELL students in the coming lottery? You bet.

    I doubt that will happen because of the misinformation campaign being spread to keep ELL families from feeling welcome at PCS, but it is a scenario worth considering.

  • Liz Winslow

    It is not silly at all to point out that anti-expansion folks spreading outright lies such as Latinos are not welcome, there is no aftercare, free/reduced lunch kids get a microwave meal, etc. are not designed to be self-fulfilling prophecies. We have gone as a community from a discussion on the merits (no matter how heated) to blatant lies being spread to achieve a desired outcome by one side, and that’s a problem.

  • Liz Winslow

    I’m in no way against not tailoring for kids – far from it – a little more tailoring might have kept my kids at LB. The pendulum has actually swung the opposite way for both PPS and PCS, I think (example: when my son would want/need to pace around the back of the classroom at LB for a few minutes, he was sent to the principal’s office at age 6. If he needs to do that at PCS, as long as he’s not disrupting other kids, they let him, then he goes back to his work, and everyone’s happy). And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about CP and subtle racism.

    The issue was with the local teachers’ union. It’s a long article that doesn’t lend itself to meaningful summarization online, but it was a fascinating blow-by-blow. And as much as I disagree with what the union was trying to do, I have to give them credit for having run an extremely organized, successful campaign to avoid change for as long as possible.

  • BlueBlazer

    Well, if there is a nefarious campaign run by PPS to discredit PCS on the basis of socioeconomic diversity I’ve been missing the meetings and newsletters for many years. In seriousness though, your issue with demographics at the various schools would be a real issue, except for PPS assigning kids to schools to prevent this issue. Just because you live close to a particular school doesn’t guarantee you’ll go to that school. However, this risk of school segregation is not due to a flawed school admissions process, but is instead due to the segregation we have at the neighborhood level. When we first started looking for schools there was a definite “look down the nose” view of CP because it was the “Barrio” school. If you really wanted the “best” for your kid you wouldn’t send them “there.” It was one of those classic bits of passive “Princeton racism” you’ll encounter if you live here.

    I think the complaint is that the admission system doesn’t allow ELL in, due to the admission process being flawed. The proposed amendment wouldn’t fix that.

    To clarify, was that issue with the local teacher’s union or the state teacher’s union? If the local, how many of those requirements were dictated by the state union? Are these 20 year old resentments that are still being held onto today something that was to some degree out of control of the local level? I’ll look up that article you referenced when I have a moment. It’s a bit interesting because your description of the old methods makes it sound like there was more flexibility per classroom than there is today. More choice. I do know that No Child Left Behind did a terrible job of tying teachers hands and pinning so much on standardized testing. We had a brief stay in the Montgomery School area and that was enough to further my appreciation for how well PPS teachers do at bending course materials to the student’s needs, and not shoveling in what is mandated.

  • BlueBlazer

    Wait, if the a lottery picked several ELL students would PCS be able to handle them as it stands now? If yes, why do they need expansion funds to alhandle ELL students? If not, why isn’t this anticipated as a potential outcome of the lottery? Something doesn’t make sense.

  • resident

    I haven’t responded to those charges because they are silly. You are blaming PPS for PCS not having a diverse student body. That doesn’t make any sense.

    Re: the funding – I haven’t read anything in the expansion information from PCS indicating they need the expansion to get the funding so they can hire more ESL teachers, or anything along those lines. It’s certainly possible that I missed it. Is the expansion specifically to hire ELL support staff?

  • Liz Winslow

    I will reiterate what I said above: yes, it is possible, but it seems designed to set PCS up to fail. I doubt PCS would fail – because it has risen to all of the substantial challenges PPS has thrown at it over the years – but it might not be as excellent as it would be otherwise a larger student body, and yes, the funding that would bring.

    And YOU haven’t responded at all to any of my points, including the systemic racism of a bunch of rich white people deciding they know what’s best for poor brown people, and thus peddle lies about PCS to keep those kids (and dollars) in PPS. That denies access, equity, and choice. And that is shameful.

  • resident

    You haven’t answered why PCS couldn’t take these steps today regardless of the expansion.

  • Liz Winslow

    Why does PPS want to hang on to every cent that the tax levy brings in? I think you can answer that, no? For PCS, more students = more funding = more in-house support (still at a bargain price per student vs. PPS), and if PCS is weighting the lottery toward disadvantaged students, who are more likely to be ELLs, would it not be appropriate to explore things like hiring specialized ESL teachers? Heck – maybe this the unicorn of a topic that PPS and PCS could cooperate and collaborate on.

    It’s amusing how the need for funding for ESL programs is completely obvious to anyone anti-expansion as regards PPS, but makes no sense at all anymore to that crowd when the same circumstances are applied to PCS. What you would have PCS do is expand the ELL population through a lottery weighting without expanding the funding to serve that population to the best of PCS’s abilities.

    But hey, maybe that’s the strategy – set PCS up to fail, along with relatively starving out its teachers, etc.
    Hasn’t worked yet in 20 years, but go on, keep trying. There’s a reason the lottery is 4x oversubscribed every year, and it’s not because everyone is happy with PPS.

    I’d wager that with a robust ELL program at PCS, you’d see the lottery numbers increase, not decrease; once the ELL student has become proficient in English, there are all the rest of the curriculum differences to think about. So again, it comes down to denying choice – but in this case in an even more insidious way, to disadvantaged populations because a bunch of rich white folks at PPS think they know what is best for poor brown folks – without consulting that population at all about what they’d like to do for their kids, or presenting other options to them. The hypocrisy level is astounding. But no, they’re not racist… they’re just whitesplaining education, I guess.

    But hey, if you (collective) go on spreading outright lies about PCS – the most ridiculous one I heard just this week was that free and reduced lunch students get a Stouffer’s microwave meal, not the same lunch as the other kids, which is laughably untrue – then of course you sway a decision in the way you want, but in a profoundly dishonest way that denies agency to parents via misinformation campaigns.

  • resident

    Why is the expansion required to serve ELLs better?

  • Liz Winslow

    Unfortunately, the declining representation of minority students, in my estimation, has quite a bit to do with the PPS campaign deriding lack of minority representation becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I appreciate your marbles analogy – but by that logic – shouldn’t we completely redistrict so that LB/RS/JP have the same percentages of Latino kids as CP? I don’t think anyone would be in favor of that – but logic would dictate that they should, given their criticisms of PCS.

    It is also frustrating to hear a complaint on the one hand that PCS doesn’t serve enough ELLs, but on the other, deny an expansion (and thus funding) that would serve ELLs better.

    I just read an article by Chiara Nappi, a former PRS board member, about how the fights about curriculum in the ’90s make today’s controversy over the expansion look like child’s play. But her chief complaint, even when people like herself who believed in more academic accountability were elected to the BOE, they were stymied at every turn by the teachers’ union. And the fact is that seeing methods tried at PCS has made PPS better; around the time of PCS’s founding, there were no standardized curricula in the PRS elementary schools – some kids were reading pictogram books, written lesson plans weren’t required, etc. The fact that 25% of eligible kids in the district applied (and keep applying) to PCS has forced PPS’s hand in certain regards to improve its academics, and that is a tide that has lifted all boats.

  • BlueBlazer

    I don’t think I have ever said PCS doesn’t welcome all students. I have said the admissions process is unfair because it is weighted to favor a particular demographic, and not surprisingly, the last 20 years of enrollment data backs this up. However, I have never said this unequal admission process is by design. But, it is what it is, and to ignore it, and proceed under the illusion that all students are given the same chance is not realistic.

    I’ll repeat something I posted earlier on this site:

    “As a theoretical example presume I have a bag of 80 purple marbles, 5 blue marbles, 5 green marbles, and 5 orange marbles. The odds that I will randomly pull purple marbles from this bag are higher than the others.
    If admission to a school requires a random lottery, and the applicant pool starts weighted to affluent white residents, you’re likely to wind up with more students from affluent white families while underserving the remaining members of the community.”

    If setting aside “X” number of seats isn’t possible because it would no longer be a lottery, I can only ask how has the sibling rule lasted so long?

    And I accept that weighted lotteries were only allowed in 2015 (I think), but can I ask how often PCS has petitioned for a fairer enrollment system in the last 20 years? If they have tried repeatedly, but been denied that would be very unfortunate. If they have not petitioned, I must ask why not.

    I am glad that you have the ability to influence the makeup of our school board. That’s a cornerstone of our system. It would be nice if the rest of the community had some input on the election of the Charter board since they also have sway over use of our communities tax funds. At the moment though, I don’t believe this is allowed. If you take issues with the local tax structure (and I’m sure you’re not alone) there avenues to petition for change, much like the local school board.

  • Liz Winslow

    The admission process is equal, and will be more than equal. PCS goes out of its way to encourage applicants of diverse backgrounds. Have you ever considered that rhetoric like yours is a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you heard a bunch of loud voices saying “You [insert subgroup here] isn’t welcome at PCS,” would you have your kid apply there?

    And you can’t set aside “x” number of seats, because then it is no longer a lottery system, which is how charter law works; the only reason double-weighting wasn’t done before is because that was a very recent change in charter law. So that’s why it’s taken “20 years to do this.”

    As for third parties – I elect the school board, but I darn sure don’t have any say in them automatically raising taxes 2% every year, not to mention jumping that cap, when we have a district awash in luxuries.

  • BlueBlazer

    First off, I think both PCS and PPS focus on curriculum. Parents who send their children to PPS do not care less about their children’s academic achievements, nor are their children not “PCS material.” Pardon my venting, but the mantra that PCS is the “be all, end all” for academics in our community is tiresome. Some parents love it, and that is great. I have spoken with other parents who were not happy with the experience.

    Money taken from PPS and put into PCS means funding originally available to all Public Schools is now only available to that one school. We can argue back and forth if this is best for the whole community or not. However, I don’t think you can argue the less than ideal optics PCS generated when they passed this on a holiday break right before the state deadline without involving anyone else. This decision, no matter how you cut it, will impact the community and it was foolish of PCS to not expect a pushback from that kind of play.

    More importantly, there is the very real issue of funding a school which doesn’t seem to be able to represent the demographics of its community. Looking over the data from almost 20 years of enrollment it is clear not all children have the same option to attend PCS. It’s an unequal system. Why PCS is intent on expanding but not addressing this issue is confusing. They have added the “two tries” for certain economically disadvantaged applicants, but there’s nothing to indicate a double chance would be enough to even the playing field. And, according to a recent Princeton Packet article, this weighting could be added at any point, without needing an amendment. I’m genuinely curious, if this is true, why it hasn’t been implemented sooner. And why Mr. Patton would only say PCS would “consider” pursuing the weighting, even if the amendment was declined.

    Lastly, I’m not clear if “this goes to show that public schools’ education does have long term effects” is meant as a mild swipe at public schools. If it wasn’t meant as one, please forgive my confusion. If it was meant as such, I can only shake my head. I really cannot fathom why there is the level of vitriol out there for one of the cornerstones of our society. It’s not perfect. It has need of work. But it’s a pretty damn good system that has been under unfair attack for quite a long time. And it is showing the wear and tear of those attacks. It needs all the support we can give it.

  • skypeacock

    I know this is a little late to comment on, but Princeton Charter School’s main focus is curriculum and if a parent is worried that their child will not excel in that environment, then that’s okay. But if other parents wish to have their kids in that environment, then why shouldn’t they be allowed to? Problem: Small classes in the elementary school level. So to open up more space, they need to expand their classroom size. But the only thing in their way is the head of the other public schools not wanting money in their pockets from the students to be put into other people’s pocket. The whole thing about PCS taking money away from the PPS is fictional. The real fact is that the money goes wherever the student (or parent) chooses to go, and that money is not the public schools; it’s the government’s money and they allow whichever school he/she goes to the privilege on how to spend the money. Don’t worry. It’s a common rumor people tend to believe, but this goes to show that public schools’ education does have long term effects!

  • BlueBlazer

    What you’re saying sounds like the people of the community shouldn’t have a say over their taxes. That a decision that impacts our community is better suited to being handled by an external third party. I do have to disagree with that.

    I would also take issue with your stance that children would be out of luck attending PPS. However, setting that aside we come back to one of the core issues with PCS. The admission process doesn’t treat all applicants equally. Going by the past 20 years of enrollment data shows that only *some* kids in our community will benefit from those additional tax dollars. There is no reason to presume that giving economically disadvantaged applicants two tries would do anything to alleviate this. It is a gamble. The system is already weighted towards the parts of our community with the highest demographics (white and affluent). Worth noting that Red Bank Charter has a similar admissions process to PCS (lottery, sibling rule, waiting list), but they started off using the same “two tries” that PCS is now proposing. However, Red Bank Charter’s demographics are still very skewed compared to their community. They are now attempting a “three tries” amendment now to address this issue. Is there any reason to believe this will work? I would love to see some projections for weighted admissions using past applicant pools. I would think running something like this first would give a better idea about how much weight would be needed to level the playing field. Or, simply set aside “x” number of seats for members of our community underserved by PCS.

    According to an article in the Princeton Packet the PCS can adjust their weighting system at any point without pushing through an amendment. If this is accurate I’m curious why it’s taken 20 years to consider doing this, and why Patton said PCS would “consider” pursuing a weighted system, even if the amendment failed. Why isn’t this disparity at the top of PCS’s issues to resolve? Until this gets fixed I would expect lots of pushback from the community about how their tax dollars get used.

  • Liz Winslow

    Tyranny of the majority meant that if the expansion were put to a vote, it would be voted down (idea going back to the Founding Fathers, nothing new on my part). And thus, a lot of people (kids) who’d benefit would be out of luck. That’s why there’s an unelected commissioner looking at the expansion proposal very coldly and with no connection to the community to reach a truly impartial decision. The end result if PCS got the expansion wouldn’t thrill PPS to be sure, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world – and it wouldn’t be a case of simple majority disregarding those who felt marginalized within PPS, for whatever reason.

    FWIW, I too agree that a weighted lottery should be implemented no matter what; however (and I speak only for myself here), it occurs that without the expansion and resulting remittances, ELLs would not be as well-served as they otherwise might. So it’s frustrating as a PCS parent to hear on the one hand, that PCS isn’t taking its share of ELLs and disadvantaged students, but on the other, when it tries to do that, it gets shouted down.

  • BlueBlazer

    I can’t speak to LB, but at my school classroom necessities have been filled by PTO, class parents, and sometimes out of the pockets of teachers.

    It seems that there has been a failure of communication on both sides throughout the last 20 years. It sounds like PCS and PPS could go tit for tat listing slights that have bruised them.

    I don’t think it’s within my rights to comment on your situation, except to say I’m very glad things worked out in the end for your family. I do know that schools can only support what they know about, and lack of diagnosis for certain conditions has been something we’ve dealt with. I will also say that we’ve had great support and responsiveness from teachers and staff for all of our children. Anytime we’ve needed to loop them in on a situation they have always responded quickly and with compassion.

    I am probably missing your point, but when I compare PCS and PPS, they both have the same amount of debt service (7%) proportional to budget. I don’t think education can or should be run like a business. Given what services are required when running a school district as diverse as Princeton, I would be interested to hear what the target budget should be in your opinion.

    Sorry, my reading skills must be failing as I’m unclear which one person you are referring to with the “tyranny of the majority” phrase. Also, not clear on what process is design to avoid what.

  • Liz Winslow

    Fair enough that some of these activities may be/have been funded by the PTO – but then one could make the argument about why the PTO at LB isn’t funding things like classroom necessities that the equivalent at PCS is?
    PCS has reached out on the get-to-know you dance, and I’m optimistic that they’ll be included. But really, it’s been a one-way street on inclusion for a long time – PCS has tried, and been rejected, on many issues.
    The failed attempt at petitioning was 20 years ago, but I was explaining the history of PCS. I’ll meet for coffee any time and discuss how we were ready to move because our disabled son was not being adequately served (if you read Ethan Schartman’s letter to the editor last week in the Packet or TT, that’s my husband).
    $95mm is not a false number; it takes into account debt service, which is astronomical and growing (did you know that current Charter remittances are lower than PPS’s debt service?). But even if you take out a whole bunch of top line items, you still end up with $80 million and change. To educate under 4k students? Districts across the country (or even state) would laugh themselves silly at the waste that’s going on.
    FTR, PCS has blackboards. It does not have iPads.
    Tyranny of the majority = why this decision does rest with one person, who takes input, but isn’t bound to anyone or any interest. Poli Sci 101 – you can referendum anything into existence if you keep rephrasing the question. That’s what the process is designed to avoid here.

  • BlueBlazer

    I’m unfamiliar with the colonial dances at LB, but the Colonial Dances this year were very popular with my children and their families. I would also note that many of the artists in residency and events like the Colonial Dances are funded, at least in part, by PTO fundraising.

    I agree with you about the JW Dances, which I wasn’t familiar with. Has Charter reached out about the dances? Sounds like a great opportunity for students to reconnect before High School.

    Necessities? I don’t think I said anything about iPads, SMART boards or gardens being necessities. But I do think these all have value. And as I said, consider that divergent student body. Princeton Public Schools are working with a more diverse socioeconomic group. Some things that don’t make sense for Charter might make sense for the Public Schools.

    The failed attempt at petitioning you cite was from 20 years ago, correct? This isn’t about the choices you’re finding fault with today. Tyranny of the majority? I’m not clear on what is meant by that.

    $95m is a false number. We can have an in depth discussion about that, but I will say I take issue with “dictating educational options.” I think that’s a pretty unfair label for something that allows public interaction and feedback, and has the ungainly job of providing education for a community as diverse as Princeton. Especially given that Charter’s admission system hasn’t done much to reflect the diversity of our community. I think “dictating educational options” would more easily be applied to one school taking X amount of tax dollars for their own use without consulting the community first.

  • Liz Winslow

    I was talking about the colonial dancing lessons at Littlebrook a few years ago, not social dances. Speaking of those, though, JW has never invited PCS to as a get-to-know-you before high school – but they have invited Cranbury. So much for “they’re all our kids” and end up at PHS together.

    PCS manages happy students, happy parents, lack of busywork, and a low cost per student with things like blackboards and kids digging in the dirt themselves. If you think $40k on a garden and SMART boards and iPads are necessities (making learning fun shouldn’t require expensive bells and whistles), your priorities and mine are wildly out of whack with each other.

    As for petitioning – that was the genesis of the Charter School. The founders did petition. They were blown off. Keep PPS Strong loves to talk (erroneously) about taxation without representation… the phrase that comes to my mind is tyranny of the majority.

    In any event, if $95mm is not enough for 3900 students, assuming a hypothetical consolidation, I repeat – what is? How is it possible PPS can defend such crazy-low MSGPs and still want MORE money? Is this community so awash in paychecks that they think they’re doing disadvantaged students a favor by dictating educational options to them, all while happily signing on for tax increase after tax increase? The hypocrisy is astonishing. Tax dollars for choice – BAD. Tax dollars for trinkets like iPads – GOOD.

  • Scimommy

    The priorities of extensive homework/high test scores over providing well rounded “extracurriculars” are also not universal. Parents who are concerned that their kids aren’t memorizing enough things at school can always supplement with extra study materials at home.

  • BlueBlazer

    If these are not your priorities I believe you can petition the school board and local government with your grievances. They are public servants and I have found them to be very responsive when I have needed to interact with them.

    I will say that the $95 million cited is a bit of a false figure as it includes lots of money that don’t directly go into the schools.

    But for now, I’ll note the following:

    I can say $40,000 for gardens that serve as areas of unlimited “real world” application of science, art, health, math seems like a great use of funds both to me and my children. Especially when you spread that cost across the years. Double so when you realize that not all families in our community have the option to cultivate their own gardens.

    Additionally, I applaud the schools bringing in new technology, such as iPads and SMART boards. Not all families in our community have access to this kind of technology at home. If my taxes go to helping to bridge the digital divide in our community I’m okay with that. Additionally, some students learn concepts better on devices like iPads. A concept that might not be easily grasped in abstract form becomes far easier to comprehend when the child gets to interact directly, such as on the iPad. Plus, turning learning into game is a fantastic way to learn, possibly one of the most effective methods. I know that the iPads have been a great hit with my children, their classmates, and their teachers.

    And as for dancing? I’m sorry, but I can’t find grievance for the social dances. They are some of my fondest memories, are open to all, and have been throughly enjoyed by all of my children. Building community is something I think PPS do a wonderful job of at all levels.

  • Liz Winslow

    Perhaps you should garden at home and dance on your own dime, then, and not complain that $95mm for 3900 kids isn’t enough. You could also – and I know this may be hard – try to understand that your priorities of colonial dancing, slam poetry residencies, and gardening are not everyone else’s. In any other school district, these would be known as extracurricular activities, and not charged to the taxpayer. It’s obscene how fast and loose with taxpayer money the PPS BoE is – $95mm for 3900 students, and you’re defending gardening and dancing. Unreal.

  • Princeton resident

    Many of us in this community are very thankful that our kids will learn to enjoy and appreciate things like gardening and dancing – hopefully an antidote to a the high stress from the adults who are hyper-focused on standardized test scores. So, thank you PPS.

  • Betterwould

    Moved here not that long ago. Two children went through PHS. It is nothing special; the high school we came from (other children went through) in the midwest was MUCH better. If nothing else, PHS advocates need to get off their high horses and look harder at the bang-for-the-buck they aren’t getting. Further, my father was an award-winning school administrator in one of NJ’s best school districts. My mother was an award-winning teacher for high-achieving students, and my brother an award-winning school administrator in PA in a very diverse districgt. With a lifetime of School Board, teacher, student and community immersion, I suggest PPS advocates look harder at reality. Primo demographics (a town dominated by CEO types and university types, AKA brainiacs), is the hobby horse PPS rides to “achieve” its high rankings – – not something profound about its curriculum, teachers or extracurriculars. Personally I really don’t fathom why P needs a charter school, but is has one for whatever reason and should receive the proportionate support to which it is legally entitled.

  • Princeton resident

    Yes!!! thank you for this clear, level headed letter.

  • FreshAir

    Taxpayers deserve good stewardship, both physical & economic, in our schools & municipality. Sustainability is all about caring for what we have, using it well, planning realistically, & doing no harm going forward. Before expanding further, school & municipal leaders need to take stock of every square foot of space Princeton taxpayers fund & sustain. Accurate enrollment projections are needed too. If those who manage school resources get to work, they will find Princeton’s needs can be met with what we have. Creativity & cooperation are the only missing ingredients at present, to complete the recipe for success. Taxpayers have already funded & provided everything else.

  • BlueBlazer

    The lottery itself, by default, is weighted to residents with the highest demographic numbers in our community.

    Theoretical Example: If I have a bag of 80 purple marbles, 5 blue marbles, 5 green marbles, and 5 orange marbles, the odds that I will randomly pull purple marbles are higher than the others.

    If admission to your school requires a random lottery, and your pool starts weighted to affluent white residents, you’re likely to wind up with more students from affluent white families.

    Public schools, barring issues of segregation (which is a whole other valid discussion), do not have this issue as they are required to accept ANY legal resident who applies.

    I believe (but might be wrong) the lottery occurs after siblings of currently enrolled students are selected. In addition to reducing available slots this favors those already enrolled, further weighting the school demographics. Additionally, there is a window by which applicants need to apply. So, there is a limited number of available seats, reduced by the sibling rule, and then weighted towards applicants with the highest demographic numbers, and lastly this process is limited to those residents able to apply by the deadline.

    Bottom Line: If any Princeton resident applies to PPS they WILL get in.

    However: If any Princeton resident applies to PCS they MIGHT get it. If they are lower income, or from a smaller demographic, that MIGHT gets less likely.

    This results in a system that by its design favors those of particular demographics. Note that I do not say this biased design was intentional. However, it yields the demographics that we see. We wind up with a publicly funded school that awards tax dollars to a system with an unfair admission process.

    Having demographics that skew towards whiter and more affluent will also result different test scores. Even the best standardized tests are flawed, and usually favor white and affluent families (even the MSGP). Affluent families also have resources to devote to out of school tutoring as needed, likely increasing test scores for that school.

    I understand that discussing these ideas will make people uncomfortable, but the discussion is worth that discomfort. These facts need to be considered when discussing the proposed amendment.

    The flawed lottery system could be, and should be, addressed without causing any increase in funding requirements. As it stands, the proposed amendment *might* alleviate the disparity of PCS, but it might not. Until there are numbers backing up PCS’ hopes, it is a gamble. I’d feel much better seeing some projections with real numbers from the past enrollment periods.

    All we can say for now it that the proposed amendment WILL take funding from all schools in PPS and direct those funds exclusively to PCS. As things stand now, because of the flawed enrollment process that means not all students in our community have the same opportunity to benefit from those funds.

  • resident

    You are asking a question that has nothing to do with my point and my stated opinion.

  • Liz Winslow

    Where do you see more stay at home moms, or well to do moms- riverside and littlebrook, or CP? Have you looked? Or do you feel like you can whitesplain this sufficiently to not need to worry about actual facts on the ground about working mothers, etc.?

    Again, feel free to answer any time (third time in this thread I’ve posed it) if, in a magical consolidation, $95mm to educate 3900 kids seems ridiculous or not. If not – why not?

  • resident

    1) I don’t know what you are talking about. You were suggesting PCS is operating more cost effectively. I simply said it is impossible to compare the operating costs of a school district with 6 campus’s and 3500 kids to a single campus serving 350 kids, with different demographics to boot.

    2) I was referring to this – from your post: “…who tend not to be white people with lots of time on their hands in Littlebrook and Riverside to post online.”

    You are mocking riverside and little brook community members for having time to post online.

  • Liz Winslow

    I’m sorry- did you disagree at some point that in the event of consolidation, it would cost $95 million to educate 3900 kids? If so, please correct not only my reading, but my math and interpretation of why this is outrageously high. Or if $95 million isn’t enough, what is? $100 million? $200 million? Should Princeton start its own central bank to guarantee iPads and gardens for all?

    FYI – LB and Riverside are overwhelmingly white. Just to make that point glaringly obvious that nobody seems to get… did it ever occur to you that you’re whitesplaining education to a disadvantaged, ethnic minority population? I’m going to guess “no.”

  • resident

    And it is not open to all who apply. All who apply means all you have to do is apply. That is all you have to do.

    To go to charter, you have to apply AND win a lottery.

    That is not open to all who apply.

  • resident

    It’s impossible to compare a school of 350 k-8 kids who to a school district operating 6 separate school campuses totaling 3,500 kids. Particularly given the drastic demographic differences in the student body.

    The two things are not comparable in the least.

    I opposing having my tax dollars diverted to a school that befits 350 kids to the detriment of the school district that serves 3,500.

    (It’s also ironic that you would take a nasty swipe at little brook and riverside community members for having time to post online. You seem to have time to post in every charter thread I’ve seen.)

  • Liz Winslow

    First, a big correction – PCS IS open to all who apply. A lottery is necessary because the school is too small to accommodate all who would like to attend. So by this logic, either we should expand the school, or lower all Princeton real estate prices so every child who wants a seat can attend. Which do you prefer?

    Second, Charter serves 10% of the district on around 6% of the budget. And its MSGPs blow the PPS schools’ (save JP) away. That doesn’t give you pause to ask about PPS management?

    Over the past couple of months I have heard the most outstanding lies – everything from “that school was found by parents of kids who couldn’t get into Lawrenceville!” (interesting since L’ville doesn’t even start till 9th grade), to “PCS actively counsels out special needs kids” (my multiply disabled child thrives there) to “PCS looks at race” – the most slanderous of all. PCS recognizes lower socioeconomic and multiracial representation has declined over time, and because of that is double-weighting the economically disadvantaged, who tend not to be white people with lots of time on their hands in Littlebrook and Riverside to post online. PCS further would use a private loan to finance building. And somehow (and people wonder why I questioned PPS’s math curriculum) – PCS would need to hire 4 teachers to do this, but PPS would need to fire 15. When PCS make $19k less per year on average with worse benefits.

    Again, bottom line, no adjustments, no fuzzy math – it is costing $95 million a year with at least a guaranteed 2% increase per year to educate 3900 bodies. On what planet is this sane?

  • Robert Dana

    Nice letter Mr. Gleason. I would like to hear from the PPS leadership regarding each of your questions. And, since they are about to stick their noses in it – by passing a resolution opposing the PCS expansion – the Town Council. That body should stay neutral. (At least it hasn’t hired a consultant to study the issue.)

    Ms. Sandberg’s letter is interesting but the politicians she sites who support Charter Schools tend to embrace them in disadvantaged areas. (Glad to know TNR is still alive even if a far cry from the days of Croly and Hand.)

  • resident

    PCS is not open to all who apply. It is open only to those that apply and who are chosen from the lottery.

    More importantly, I think we should keep in mind during this debate that we are not arguing for the benefit of just our own children, but rather for the community at large. I wish the tone and attitude of pro PCS posters here would give some credit to the very plain reality that PPS serves 10 times the number of students than PCS, and does it very well.

    PCS is a small school that is obviously pleasing the small number of parents who chose to avail themselves of it, and had luck on their side in the draw. PPS IS open to all that apply, and in fact is mandated to educate all that apply. They are two totally different institutions, and I would dare to suggest that if PCS were to grow to the same size and scope as PPS, and was required to educate all comers, it would face the same challenges as PPS.

    And so, I suggest again, this debate isn’t about my kids, and the great education they got here or there, or you kids, and their great experience here or there….it’s about making the best decision for the entire community.

    To that end, I oppose pulling public money from the budget of the school that serves 10 times the number of kids served at Charter.

  • Liz Winslow

    Tony Gleason’s letter was a bit long, but really says it all… “ground-hugging” is right for JW’s scores. This increase would be about 1% of PPS’s budget, and it’s going to a school that doesn’t squander money left and right on SMART boards, iPads, $40,000 gardens, layers of management making close to $200k apiece, and so on and so forth. Every time PCS has expanded, the same lies about firing teachers and cutting programs have been brought forth. It’s never happened. Even if Mr. Cochrane got his wish of consolidation, it still should be his burden to explain why it takes $95 million to educate about 3,900 students, and yet he still must rely on 2% tax increases and cap-jumping waivers to do so. Numbers can be weighted any which way, but that is the bottom line. $95 million and growing for 3900 kids. This is madness.

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Santa Comes to Kale’s Garden Center

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