More than one school board candidate for the Princeton Public Schools has stated during forums and in candidate profiles that the school district receives $6 million a year from Cranbury for tuition. That number is incorrect and overinflated by more than a million dollars.
The tuition the district receives for Cranbury students to attend Princeton High School is based on a formula that is determined by the state. Cranbury and the Princeton Public Schools have a 10-year agreement for their sending-receiving relationship, and that contract expires at the end of the 2019-20 school year.
For the 2017-18 academic year, about 272 students from Cranbury attend Princeton High School. Cranbury makes up about 17 percent of the high school population of about 1,617 students. The tuition rate the district receives this year is about $17,000 per student. For 272 students, a rate of $17,000 is $4,624,000 in tuition revenue. (The June 13, 2017 minutes do not list a specific tuition rate for 2017-18, but instead refer to an addendum that lists the total projected tuition income from Cranbury to be $4,801,320 for 2017-18 based on about 280 students.)
For the 2016-17, the tuition rate was $17,191, according to an April 2017 chart created by district officials that lists Cranbury tuition amounts and enrollment data for eleven years. The Princeton Public Schools received an estimated $4,813,480 in tuition revenue from Cranbury for educating about 280 students.
How much does it cost to educate a Princeton Public Schools student?
According to the New Jersey Department of Education’s Taxpayers’ Guide to Education Spending, the “budgeted costs amount per pupil” in the Princeton Public Schools for 2016-17 was $19,964.The budgeted costs are listed in the “user-friendly budgets” school districts distribute when budgets are developed.
This budgeted costs amount per pupil excludes the following: pensions paid by the state on behalf of districts, local contribution to special revenue, tuition expenditures, interest payments on the lease purchase of buildings, transportation costs, residential costs, judgments against the school district, equipment purchases, facilities acquisition and construction services, debt service, and expenditures funded by restricted local, state and federal grants. This number excludes transportation costs and out-of-district placement costs that Cranbury pays. But it also excludes some items that could be considered part of the expenses related to Cranbury, such as some legal costs and facilities expenses.
Total spending per pupil provides a more comprehensive picture of school district expenditures, because the per pupil budgeted costs exclude some significant cost categories. Total per pupil spending calculations include: transportation, special revenues, pension and benefits paid by the state, facilities costs, debt service, equipment, total food services, judgments against the school district, and tuition/costs for students sent out of district, except for payments to charter schools. It should be noted that sending districts pay for their own transportation costs.
For 2015-16, the last academic year data is available from the state, the total spending per pupil in Princeton was $25,910. The district spent $93,024,887 to educate about 3,590 students.
State Average Total Cost per Pupil 2015-16: $20,385
State Median Total Cost per Pupil 2015-16: $19,768
Revenue Sources for 2015-16 for the Princeton Public Schools, according to the Taxpayer Guide:
Local Taxes: 75.3%
Use of Fund Balance: 0.1%
Cranbury is not required to contribute to bond issues for renovations and expansions, though Cranbury could voluntarily agree to do so.
Julie Ramirez said the district is under contract with Cranbury for many years to come and that the Princeton Public Schools would be damaged financially by sending Cranbury students away. The district values the students and there are more course offerings at the high school because of Cranbury. “Talking about sending them away is divisive and I wish the conversation would stop,” Ramirez said.
Jenny Ludmer said she represents the voters and taxpayers of Princeton. “We need to analyze the data and make sure the arrangement is beneficial for Princeton taxpayers,” she said, adding that the most recent demographics report shows that the high school is exceeding its capacity by 60 students and will add another 200 students over the next 10 years. Once the town’s affordable housing settlement is negotiated that could affect the projected increase in students, she said. “Once we know the numbers, we have to analyze things without emotion with respect to the Princeton taxpayers,” Ludmer said.
James Fields said the school district’s relationship with Cranbury is the reverse of the relationship with Princeton Charter School. One brings in money and one takes it away. He said data needs to be reviewed, but that keeping Cranbury students seems like the right decision. “I see the relationship with Cranbury as beneficial moving forward,” Fields said.
Jessica Deutsch said she would examine the data if she is elected. “All of the schools are bursting at the seams,” Deutsch said. “Ending the Cranbury agreement is not part of the solution to a larger overcrowding problem.”
Beth Behrend said that this is an exciting time for the Princeton community. She estimated that the town’s affordable housing obligations for the next eight years could be between 500 and 1,200 units. She said she has the financial and business experience to review the data. “We need to make sure everyone is on the same page, because we are looking at a big referendum for tens of millions of debt.”
Planet Princeton will be writing a follow up story about the Cranbury sending-receiving agreement in general.