To the Editor:
The high school sending-receiving agreement with Cranbury is expiring in 2020. This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for the Princeton Public School District and the town’s residents to reexamine the costs and benefits of this agreement and whether the reasons to enter into this agreement almost ten years ago are still valid today and for the next decade.
Whether to renew the Cranbury agreement will have a material impact on the student headcount in Princeton High School in a time when our school facility is capacity-constrained. More importantly, this decision will directly affect the need and the timing of the proposed facilities referendum, which in turn will have a significant impact on the township finances.
Rather than brushing aside questions about the Cranbury agreement by the public, the school board has the obligation to provide Princeton residents a detailed explanation as to whether renewing the Cranbury agreement is in our best interest. Unfortunately, the information provided so far by the school district to justify renewing this agreement has been woefully inadequate and often misleading. For example,
1. The Board of Education members and the Cranbury representative said on the April 10th board meeting that there is no legal option to terminate this agreement. However, NJ Rev Stat § 18A:38-21 clearly states that the board may apply to the New Jersey Department of Education for consent to terminate the agreement on the ground that the receiving district is “no longer able to provide facilities for the pupils of the other district.”
2. The Board of Education members and the superintendent told us that terminating the Cranbury agreement will lead to an immediate loss of $4.9 million revenue for the district. That is not true. NJ Rev Stat § 18A:38-21.1 stipulates that the send-receive relationship shall be continued for the students from the sending district who are already enrolled. This means that the loss of revenue to the district will be phased in over four years which should provide both Princeton and Cranbury school districts the time to make operational and financial adjustments.
3. The superintendent also said that the lost revenue from Cranbury would be too big a budget deficit to fill and will force the district to breach the 2% cap of property tax increase. Yet, taking on over $100 million of debt and the associated operating costs of new school facilities seems to be a sure way to exceed that 2% cap. The township residents are entitled to all the necessary information to help them to decide which bill to foot.
As substantial changes in tax laws are occurring at both the federal and state levels, township residents, more than any time, have the right to demand from our elected officials the prudence and transparency that are required for decisions that could affect the township’s financial health for the next decade and beyond.
Please join me in urging our school district officials to postpone voting on the send-receive agreement with Cranbury and present us detailed information and analysis so that our community can make an informed decision.