Letters: School board should vote no on Cranbury sending and receiving agreement

Dear Princeton Board of Education Members,

We ask that you vote no to renew the Cranbury Send/Receive Agreement (SRA) for another ten years. Renewing the SRA will harm the Board’s credibility as careful stewards of public funds, since you have filed a $130 million facilities referendum with the stated aim of relieving overcrowding in the schools. You have also stated that each of the six public schools is at, or above, capacity. There is simply no room at Princeton High School for 280 Cranbury students. You also filed a lawsuit against the Princeton Charter School on their plan to increase enrollment and relieve overcrowding in our schools. The Princeton Charter School plan to increase enrollment was filed without the need for a facilities referendum, or tax increase. These actions contradict your stated purpose to relieve overcrowding, and seriously undermine your credibility.

You state in your June 9th presentation at the library on Slide 31, “We are not alone” as there are other large, pending facilities referendums in Central/Suburban New Jersey. But you fail to mention these school districts are much larger than our school district. On a per student basis, Princeton’s proposed referendum is three times the size of West Windsor/Plainsboro, with their 9,900 students, three times the size of Tom’s River, with their 14,824 students, and more than three times the size of Cherry Hill, with their 10,996 students. Princeton’s proposed $130 million referendum, based upon 4,089 students, is $31,793 per student. The West Windsor/Plainsboro referendum is $115 million, or $11,616 per student; the Toms’ River referendum is $153 million, or $10,321 per student, and Cherry Hill’s referendum is $100 million, or only $9,094 per student. Your proposed referendum, at $130 million, is a massive amount for a school district the size of Princeton.

Not renewing the Cranbury SRA has multiple benefits, as it would allow you to prioritize, and phase in, the six school expansion and/or renovation projects, plus Thanet Road, as well as consider other, lower cost options. You only presented one facilities plan to the community, when there are other, less risky and lower-cost options available. This headstrong rush to have your facilities plan approved at all costs divides the community and further undermines your credibility.

Those of us with decades of financial experience know that RISK is a four letter word. You are a part time, all-volunteer board. I fear that you don’t know, what you don’t know. Last Thursday during the open discussion with you, I discussed the need for fixed price, bonded construction contracts for each of the six projects, plus Thanet Road, that you seek to undertake nearly simultaneously. Cost overruns and contractor underperformance are endemic in the constructions business. Having a professional construction manager didn’t help in Boston where the “Big Dig”, originally budgeted at $2.8 billion, cost $24 billion. There is a real possibility that without fixed price, bonded construction contracts, you could spend $130 million and complete only a portion of the projects. Harvard University ran out of money in 2008 during the global financial crisis and left a hole in the ground in Allston until they could borrow $3 billion in the municipal bond market. You say that you have budgeted conservatively. However, the $130 million referendum is only at the mid-point of estimated constructions costs. Every change order that is submitted on your behalf is an opportunity for the contractor to reprice the job, upward. Which school projects will be left incomplete if you end up at the high end of construction costs or experience cost overruns due to routine change orders?

I would like to share a few headlines from the last referendum project in Princeton Public Schools;

Contractor’s suit against (Princeton) school district settled for $400,000, September 30, 2008, Princeton Packet
– Involved change orders for work on Littlebrook and Riverside elementary schools

Princeton Regional district files suit against architectural firm for high school project, March 5, 2011 the Times of Trenton

Princeton: New lawsuit filed over high school construction, March 10, 2011, Princeton Packet

Please don’t think that it can’t happen again, or worse. Your reputations, collectively and individually, for putting the public interest first and foremost, will be called into serious question if things don’t go exactly as planned.

Please vote No on renewing the Cranbury SRA and take the time to get this critical facilities plan right, the first time. The risk to the community and our students, is simply too great.

Daniel J. Dart
Parent of Student
Princeton Public Schools

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