Lawyers for the Princeton Public Schools have filed a 140-page document with the New Jersey Commissioner of Education opposing the expansion of the charter school.
The district is requesting that the commissioner not consider the application for expansion at all because it claims the board of trustees for the charter school violated the state’s open public meetings act when it passed a resolution to apply to expand the school by 76 students and add a weighted lottery system to benefit economically disadvantaged students.
“There is no proof that PCS’s weighted lottery will alleviate the inequities with PCS’s enrollment, which have a segregative effect; there is no proof that PCS’s test scores outperform similar peer schools, and, as such, little weight should be given to such data; PCS’s claims that increasing its enrollment will alleviate the District’s rising enrollment are flatly untrue,” reads the document. “The financial impact to the District is real and significant, which could threaten the District’s ability to maintain its excellent educational programs. Finally, there are compelling public policy reasons that favor denial of PCS’s Application.”
The document calls on the state commissioner to at least consider postponing a decision on the charter school application until a superior court judge rules on a lawsuit filed by the district regarding the violation open public meetings act.
“If the Commissioner were to approve the Application and the Superior Court subsequently voids the Board of Trustees’ action, the resulting conflict between the two decisions would cause considerable confusion, disruption, and uncertainty in the budgeting processes and operations of both the District and PCS. Any such conflict would also disrupt PCS’s lottery process for the upcoming school year, thus having negative consequences for the children involved,” reads the document. “Since the PCS Board of Trustees’ action is currently the subject of litigation (and the Board believes that the Court will invalidate PCS’s action), the Commissioner must, at a minimum, postpone consideration of the Application. Denying the Application, however, eliminates any possibility of confusion and uncertainty for the Board, PCS, and all the children they serve.”
The district also calls on the state to place the charter school on probation for the alleged Open Public Meetings Act violations. “The Commissioner should place PCS on probation for its failure to operate in compliance with its legal obligations as a public body. The Board respectfully submits that if the Commissioner takes any action here, it should be to deny the Application and place PCS on probation,” reads the document. Lawyers for the district also claim the charter school has violated the open public meetings act at every meeting since June. They also contend that the charter school has refused to provide the district with certain information the district requested to craft a response to the expansion application.
The district also is requesting that the application be thrown out on its merits because the school has not been enrolling a representative cross section of the community with respect to all student groups, including special education students and English language learners.
“Conspicuously absent from PCS’s submission is any analysis of its current waitlist to ascertain whether weighting the lottery will actually have any impact or any discussion of changes it intends to make to its outreach,” reads the document. “Because PCS likely has few or no prospective students currently applying who would be eligible for the new weighted lottery, the weighted lottery will do nothing to remedy the fact it fails to comply with its legal obligation to enroll a representative cross section of the community.”
The district claims that using a weighted lottery will actually worsen enrollment equity rather than improving it and that every charter school expansion has resulted in a decrease so far.
“PCS’s proposed weighted lottery is designed to benefit families who have incomes significantly higher than those recognized by the New Jersey Department of Education as economically disadvantaged,” reads the document. “Second, it appears PCS historically has not seen demand for its kindergarten lottery among economically disadvantaged students. Third, PCS’s past expansions have resulted in decreases in its enrollment of economically disadvantaged students, not the increase PCS baselessly claims will result from its proposed new round of expansion.”
District officials also claim that little weight can be given to the school’s strong performance data because of the demographic makeup of the student body. They also argue that because the Princeton Public Schools
are among the very best in the nation by any measure, there is no justification for the expansion based on educational quality or opportunity.
The district also calls the charter school’s claim that its expansion plan will assist the district because of the district’s increased enrollment “a sham” the district claims is not supported by data.
Using a “weighted student” measure developed by charter school opponent and Julia Sass Rubin of Rutgers University, the district claims the charter school and public schools spend the same amount per pupil. The charter school has repeatedly disputed Rubin’s numbers and claims.
District officials argue in the document that the expansion request will have a significant financial impact on the district of more than $1 million annually that “will unnecessarily harm and threaten the District’s ability to provide an excellent education for its students.”
They also argue the application should be denied based on public policy and say the Princeton community is “overwhelmingly opposed to the expansion.” More than 3,400 people have signed an online petition opposing the expansion, and Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert wrote a letter to the commissioner, “noting the breadth and intensity of the community’s concerns about it.”
The district argues that the expansion would hurt the current and future Charter School students because about 90 percent of them go on to Princeton High School and budget cuts because of the expansion would hurt the students there, they say.
Finally, the Princeton Public Schools argues that the charter school application is contrary to “the original and best policies of the charter school movement, and is harmful to the vast majority of children in Princeton, particularly those most vulnerable children that PCS claims to want to help.”
One of the original purposes of the charter school movement was to create laboratories for educational innovations that larger, more bureaucratic public school districts did not have the flexibility or capacity to try. “This description simply does not apply to the Princeton Public Schools,” reads the district’s response. “The district is a pioneer of educational innovations in many aspects, at every grade level and for children of every background and learning ability level.”