To the Editor:
I’m a parent of three children, two of whom are in the Princeton public schools and one who will be, and I’m writing in support of both the upcoming school bond referendum and the superintendent and members of the school board who worked so hard to put our district’s ambitious plans together.
Other letter writers have spoken eloquently and persuasively about the conditions that create the need for this referendum: overcrowded buildings, a growing school-aged population, outdated facilities, critical security improvements. What I’d like to focus on is not the need for these changes, but about the process by which the Board developed its plan; the opportunity that we, as a community, have had to give input; and the choice that we, the voters, will face in the referendum.
Some recent letters to the editor have criticized the process by which the Board and Superintendent Cochrane developed the facilities plan. These letters have argued that residents had too few opportunities to learn about the plan and give input before the final plan was announced, and that the plan that the Board ultimately approved costs too much for too little in return. Other letters have argued that no improvements are needed: that the Princeton schools are doing just fine, or that even if they’re not, our elected officials should be helping us to do more with less.
I agree that involving voters in the development of such a plan is crucially important, and that our elected board members must continually strive for frugal solutions to the district’s challenges. From what I’ve seen, the Board and Superintendent Cochrane have done both. During the development of the facilities proposal, they held countless meetings, forums, and information sessions seeking community input, and since the plan’s completion, they’ve conducted ample outreach to inform voters about its components. Both the details of the plan and the recent decision to split the referendum in two are evidence of the Board’s deep awareness of the need to keep costs down while still achieving the improvements our district needs.
When I voted for our town’s Board members, I voted for individuals who I believed would be well-suited, by experience and temperament, to preserve and build on our schools’ excellence in a fiscally responsible manner. This, to my mind, does not only mean husbanding our schools’ resources. It also means anticipating future needs, so that our schools will not only continue to thrive, but will be positioned to improve upon their already distinguished record. The actions I’ve observed over the past few months have strengthened my confidence that our Board is making the right decisions for our district’s future. Undoubtedly, each of us, on our own, would have put together a slightly different proposal. But that’s not how collective decision making works. We, as a town, have pooled our resources to develop a plan; now we get to vote on it. If, on balance, we think that the plan sets Princeton Public Schools on the right path, we vote yes. A no vote would not only scuttle the existing plan; it would also send the Board and the superintendent back to the drawing board, with all of the time and expense that would entail. This, to me, would be a profoundly dismaying outcome.
No one likes paying taxes. But no one likes living in a town with unsatisfactory schools, either. A school district in decline doesn’t only affect the children who fill its classrooms; it drags down the property values of every homeowner in town, and community morale along with it. A thriving public school district, in contrast, boosts not only our community’s young people, but the vibrancy of Princeton as a whole. This fall, I will enthusiastically vote yes on the school facilities referendum.