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Commissioner of Education denies school district’s request to halt Princeton Charter School expansion

New Jersey Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington has rejected the request by the Princeton Public Schools to stay her decision granting the Princeton Charter School’s request to expand.

On Feb. 28, the New Jersey Department of Education approved the charter school’s  controversial plan to expand its student body by 76 students and offer a weighted lottery to benefit economically disadvantaged students.

Lawyers for the Princeton Public Schools requested a stay while they battle the charter school in the courts.

“According to PCS’s brief opposing the stay, once the decision was issued, it began taking certain steps toward implementing the decision. PCS asserts that it engaged in extensive, multi-lingual outreach and conducted a lottery for the 2017-18 school year. The results of that lottery were shared with parents the same day. PCS also represents in its brief that it contracted with a modular building vendor to accommodate the additional students, and began activities to recruit additional personnel,” reads Harrington’s letter outlining her decision to reject the stay request. “A motion for a stay is considered an extraordinary remedy…A stay may be granted when necessary to prevent irreparable harm, where the legal right underlying the movant’s claim is settled, where there is a likelihood of success on the merits, and where the relative hardship to the moving party favors granting such relief…I find the board has failed to meet the standard for a stay.”

The school district has argued that the expansion approval will not withstand scrutiny on appeal. Harrington said that court’s review of state agency decisions on at the appellate level is limited, and the district would have to prove that the decision was  arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable. Harrington argues that the school district is not likely to win its appeal. She said she reviewed student performance on statewide tests, operational stability, fiscal viability, public comment and the fiscal impact on the school district when deciding to grant the expansion approval.

“Student performance at PCS is remarkable,” she wrote, adding that PCS state assessment tests for a four-year period were evaluated, and the school had the highest rank possible. The school outperformed the state and the local district for 2014-15 and 2015-16 for grades 3-5 and grades 6-8 in English language arts and mathematics, she said.

The school’s charter was renewed in 2015-16 and the school has never been placed on probation by the state. The school has consistently strong enrollment, and school records reflect a strong demand for additional enrollment at the school, Harrington said. The impact of the reduction in students at the Princeton Public schools would be two percent over the next four years, she said.

Harrington argued that the district would need to show that the reduction in state funding for the public schools would make the district unable to provide a “thorough and efficient education” to the pupils it serves. The Princeton Public Schools is the fifth highest spending district in the state for a school district its size. The district spends about $24,000 per pupil, about 25 percent more than the statewide average of $19,000.

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.

  • BlueBlazer

    I appreciate that PPS is continuing to oppose the expansion. This decision is no surprise, but it’s not the end of the line.

  • Liz Winslow

    In the meantime, thank goodness there’s a mechanism to prevent a tyranny of a blessed majority which finds it socially convenient to go along with whatever PREA says, with zero consideration for taxpayer dollars or children beyond their own lucky circle.

  • PrettySmart1

    The Christie Administration has no interest in the wishes of Princeton residents, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic. We need to vote for a new, responsive Democratic administration so we can have a say in the use of our own tax dollars.

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