Finally it appears that the Princeton Board of Education is “getting real.” Perhaps they saw a recent report that “between 2012 and 2016 a net $11.9 billion of income left New Jersey according to the IRS. Note: This equates to more than $1 billion in lost income tax revenue for New Jersey.” (New Jersey’s Tax Gift to Florida, WSJ-7/1/2108). No wonder taxable income is leaving New Jersey, we have the highest property taxes in the country, and one of the highest state income taxes.
Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane wrote to families, staff, and members of the community on July 3 to say “At the meeting on July 10th, the Board and I will be considering the merits of potentially dividing the referendum into two questions or into two separate referenda – one to be voted on this Fall and another to be considered by the community in two or three years.” The “referendum” to which he refers, is a record setting $130 million, larger by 3-6 times, on a per pupil basis, than other school referenda in central and suburban New Jersey.
Count us strongly in favor of the latter, “two separate referenda – one to be voted on this Fall and another to be considered by the community, in two or three years.” We agree that the Princeton Public Schools have facility needs. However, it would be highly irresponsible to give a $130 million blank check, to a part time, all volunteer Board of Education, that, heretofore, has only provided lip service to community “input”. Their track record is terrible as well; previous bond referendum spending has resulted in shoddy construction, cost overruns and multiple lawsuits.
The fall referendum should be limited to addressing the critical facility needs of the Princeton Public Schools. These are estimated at 1) Safety/Security, $5,142,760; 2) Fire suppression, $2,758,500; 3) Asbestos abatement, $2,100,000; 4) HVAC–Replace HV Equipment, add air conditioning and electrical services, $11,827,800. These critical facility needs total $21,829,060. How about if we add in $5,000,000 toward the $11,638,200 requested for Athletics, including new Fields and gym upgrades? Now we at $26,829,060 for the Fall referendum. That sounds about the right for a community of our size.
In two or three years, when most previous referenda debt is repaid, our school enrollment numbers are confirmed, and include students from the affordable housing requirement, we can consider a referendum for the expansion needs of the Princeton Public Schools.