School board seeks voluntary payments from private educational institutions in Princeton (updated)

For the past year, the school board for the Princeton Public Schools has been working quietly behind the scenes to seek new sources of money for the district, including voluntary payments from non-profit partners who send children to the Princeton Public Schools.

At the school board meeting Tuesday night, school board member Dafna Kendal, who chairs the board’s ad hoc revenue committee, announced that Princeton Theological Seminary has agreed to increase its contribution to the Princeton Public Schools by 25 percent.

“Princeton Theological Seminary has made a voluntary contribution to the public schools for many years and sends about 20 students to the Princeton Public Schools,” Kendal said. “I’m very pleased to report that they have agreed to increase their voluntary payment by 25 percent and have further committed to increasing their contribution an additional 25 percent if the number of students they send to the Princeton Public Schools continues to  rise.”

The seminary currently makes a voluntary payment of $72,000 per year to the district. With the 25 percent increase, the seminary will pay $90,000 per year to the district, or about $4,500 per child sent to the district. The seminary also already pays taxes for some of its property.

“We are extremely grateful for our partnership with Princeton Theological Seminary and appreciate their willingness to increase their voluntary contribution to the Princeton Public Schools,” Kendal said.

She noted that the voluntary contributions go into the operating budget and reduce the financial impact on taxpayers.

“The seminary has been a supporter for a long time and responded immediately wanting to be a good neighbor,” Superintendent of School Steve Cochrane said.

Princeton University makes a voluntary payment to the municipality, but not the school district. The Institute for Advanced Study sends some students of faculty members to the Princeton Public Schools, but the Institute does not make an annual voluntary payment to the district. The Institute and Princeton University make a voluntary payment to the municipal government every year, but the school district does not receive a portion of those payments.

The Hun School sends 14 kids to the school district and the Institute sends 30 kids, Kendal said in a phone interview on Wednesday. 

“Members of the committee have had initial conversations with Princeton University, the Institute, and the Hun School,” Kendal said. “We can’t go into details yet because we don’t want to compromise our negotiations.” 

Kendal added that the school board is gearing up for its building referendum and is very conscious of the fact that the community is being asked for more money. “Our superintendent, Steve Cochrane, and his administration have been working very hard. We are very aware of concerns about taxes, and we are working diligently to do what we can to lessen the tax impact.”

“We hope to have more good news soon and see other institutions follow the seminary’s lead,” Kendal said.

A spokesman for Princeton University told Planet Princeton the day after the meeting that the University already provides very substantial support to the Princeton Public Schools every year. In calendar year 2016, $4.3 million of Princeton University’s property tax payments went to the schools.  The spokesman said of that amount, more than $2.7 million was paid voluntarily on properties that could have been taken off the tax rolls. The total of $4.3 million does not include school taxes paid on Merwick/Stanworth, which are fully tax-paying properties.

Kendal said the ad hoc committee for the school board is aware that the university pays taxes on some of its properties as well as an additional voluntary payment to the municipality. “The committee will be asking the university for additional support in the form of a voluntary payment to the school district. The district does not receive a portion of the voluntary payment the university makes to the municipality.”

“As a school board member, I’m very concerned about the impact of the national political environment on our public schools, we will be asking the university for additional support to ensure that we will be able to continue to provide all our students with the education and services they require,” Kendal said.