Planet Princeton

Critical questions about Princeton Public Schools budget

Dear Editor:

After more than four hours of often rancorous discussion during the recent Princeton Public Schools budget meeting, I was extremely disappointed that no one directly addressed the critical question of why Princeton’s gigantic per pupil cost ($24,634) exceeds that of other high achieving K-12 districts in New Jersey, including our neighbors in West Windsor/Plainsboro ($18,677) and Montgomery ($19,155). When I multiply a $5,500 difference by 3600 students, I get a product of nearly $20,000,000, an enormous annual sum for a town of this size. One board member briefly responded that economically disadvantaged children require more taxpayer funds without providing an explanation or any examples that would even be remotely acceptable in any workplace forum today. A list of fifteen New Jersey K-12 public school districts that have been recognized for high achievement reveals that at least two enroll more economically disadvantaged students than Princeton. They are Montclair ($20,506) and Summit ($19,211).

Another discussion item at the meeting was the existing contract with the “sending” district of Cranbury. Can’t the PPS Board adequately explain why Cranbury only reimburses Princeton $17,000 per high school student while the average per student cost in this district is currently $24,643? Based on the budgets of many high achieving 9-12 regional high school districts in the state, the cost of high school students exceeds that of students in other grades. All of my figures and conclusions are sourced to data from the NJ Department of Education.

Once again, Princeton taxpayers must brace themselves for upcoming increases from all three of the very extravagant tax jurisdictions that control our lives, Princeton Public Schools, the municipality of Princeton, and the County of Mercer. Throughout my neighborhood, houses assessed at $500,000 or even less are being torn down with replacements valued at $1.5 million. When annual revenue for the three tax jurisdictions is instantly tripling from the very same property, why should it be necessary to increase the taxes of the existing, struggling homeowners? When we are already paying property taxes that are among the highest in the entire nation, every increase becomes substantial, at least to some of us.

Folks in Princeton often speak of “diversity” and “inclusion.” For retirees, seniors, and the rapidly dwindling middle class of Princeton, all that we get, time after time, is a door that is slammed in our faces, even after some of us have lived here all of our lives. If you do not understand the true meaning of words, don’t use them so frequently or you risk the appearance of dishonesty and hypocrisy.

Frank Wiener

Community Contributor

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  • Simon

    First of all, your name is arrogant and obnoxious. Second of all, if you are so smart, you would have actually comprehended the letter which states that Princeton Public Schools spend $5,000-$6,000 more per student than every other high achieving public school district in New Jersey, many where the value of homes exceed Princeton, including Millburn/Short Hills, Ridgewood, Chatham, and many other towns. Furthermore, why do you assume that the writer’s house is valuable? Have you been to his house?

  • PrettySmart1

    That’s quite an elaborate fantasy.

  • FreshAir

    These new leaders that are all about their own vision, and have no roots here, clearly believe the plantation was a good model for society.

  • FreshAir

    Scott, When taxes rise, housing costs rise for renters & homeowners. With each new tax increase, folks feel less secure here. With each rise, longtime residents make the decision to leave. That’s why people are very concerned about the lack of honestly & leadership in PPS, which is a school system all have supported for the love of children & education 100% until now.

  • FreshAir

    PrettySmart1, You write: “It is unfortunate that all of this has the side effect of making it hard for persons on a fixed income to live in Princeton, but PPS is a jewel and is making the world a better place…”, which tells me everything I need to know about you. Exceptionally smart ones (plural) populated leadership roles in Princeton decades ago, before today’s heartless leaders were in place. They respected people above all, they recognized the beauty & abundance already here, and they treasured our resources in such a way that seniors had no worries about aging in place. They saw the grandeur here already, rather than seeking to create something of their own design to take it’s place. And, so they kept up our public buildings and gardens, with a pride that uplifted us all. Anyone can buy jewels, but you remind me there are rare irreplaceable treasures in this world that are priceless: … people who represent the best in us, strong community values, honesty above all… things you wouldn’t understand. I’m sorry that you were given the challenge of a special needs child. From what I’ve seen, great gifts come from the experience of that when folks develop more compassion for the vulnerable among us. This is an idea you might entertain someday, now that all of your child’s needs for education are being met. Since you are new here, I hope you take the time to educate yourself about your neighbors. That will make you more than a PrettySmart1.

  • FaceMan

    Oh come on. You’ve got it exactly backwards. The success of public school districts is pretty much dependent on how wealthy the local residents are.

  • PrettySmart1

    The excellent Princeton schools are one reason why this writer’s house is as valuable as it is.

  • PrettySmart1

    Do you realize how patronizing you sound? And thanks for the assumptions about my child’s test scores.

  • TD

    Do you realize how self-serving your comment sounds? “My kid costs several times more to educate and drags down the whole class, yet the school still manages to get decent scores. People who are not well-off don’t get the privilege of contributing to my child’s education”. I am sorry but such attitude negates any sympathy one might have otherwise.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    Because this is an expensive town. Rents are expensive… the stores are expensive, how could they afford to live in this town? Every parent wants the best school for his or her kid; but not every parent can afford Princeton property taxes.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    Why should Princeton taxpayers pay to build space for the Cranbury students? Princeton won’t be reimbursed for the cost of the buildings from the new referendum.

  • Scott

    Sandra Bierman, I don’t quite understand. First, why do you assume the people who come to this town because of PPS are people who can afford million dollar homes? Only wealthy people value good schools? And also, even if that premise were true, then why would it mean the elderly and middle class Princetonians will definitely leave?

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    Still, the people who come to this town because of PPS are people who can afford million dollars homes… so, the elderly and middle class princetonians will definitely leave so this town becomes the wealthiest and smartest, the most “sustainable”, “inclusive”, “diverse”, and the ones left to live here because they can afford it, will be patting their backs, feeling so accomplished good citizens…. again, a joke….

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    Absolutely!

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    Agree!

  • Ron Chen

    Thanks for your posting. I agree with all your points, especially the part about diversity and inclusion. I would even throw in sustainability, another word in vogue. This isn’t the same town we came to more than 30 years ago. Most troubling, I don’t hear any of our elected officials raising the points you made.

  • PrettySmart1

    As the parent of a special-needs child, I can attest that PPS provides an exceptional education for ALL of the children, and is renowned for doing so. Yes, it costs a lot, and many another school district would prefer to wage groundless court battles instead of doing the best for the kids. God bless PPS. And as anyone who cares to check the school report cards released by the State knows, PPS kids’ test scores are among the highest in the State (often the highest when magnet schools — which ought not to be ranked alongside general admission schools — are factored out). Particularly in light of the number of families who buy homes in Princeton specifically because of its justifiably-acclaimed special education programs, the test scores are remarkable. It is unfortunate that all of this has the side effect of making it hard for persons on a fixed income to live in Princeton, but PPS is a jewel and is making the world a better place by helping kids of all stripes be the best they can be.

  • kbaa

    Residents of the State of New Jersey pay the highest property taxes in the nation, far and away. And while there are small enclaves of wealth scattered throughout the State, Princeton pays the highest property taxes among NJ towns with populations over 25,000. Indeed, if there is a town somewhere in America of comparable size to Princeton that pays as much property tax, I haven’t been able to find it. And while our School Board is not the sole reason why this is so, it is more than half the reason.

    Why does the contract with the “sending district” of Cranbury continue? We are being paid far less than it costs to educate their children. Why should the expansion of the local charter school be fought? Their cost per child is much less than the School District’s. And buying the Westminster Choir College campus is the ‘chance of a century’ akin to the Louisiana Purchase?

    The School Board wants to build an empire, and there is no reason for it. If the good citizens of Princeton approve this budget proposal, it will force people of modest means to leave. One begins to wonder if that’s not part of the purpose.

  • FreshAir

    Thanks for your excellent letter, Frank. 100% agree x 100% of my family & neighbors.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    I agree with Mr Wiener. Those are also my questions. When PCS expansion was approved, my comment was, “time for PPS to buck up” and a former board member took my comment as if I were saying that teachers and staff weren’t hard workers..where she got that, i have no clue; but when I clarified that I meant that they needed to use their resources more carefully, and asked my very valid questions; I received 0 answers from the person who dared to put words in my mouth, offended by my comment. Don’t get me wrong, teachers should be compensated very well, their jobs don’t end when the bell rings, they work more hours a week than the usual 40 and in the summer, they work too… but, why other neighboring districts that also thrive spend less money per kid? Why Cranbury pays less? Why ? Why? The diversity and inclusiveness chants are getting boring and have lost credibility, in my opinion, this town is on its way to become a town where no seniors or middle class people live, just wealthy and undocumented, not able to relate to each other…a joke.

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