Local officials: Princeton Public Schools bond referendum will be delayed because state has not signed off on the $130 million proposal (updated)

Princeton Public Schools officials wanted voters to approve a $130 million bond referendum this November for school construction, but could not get approvals from the state for the  plan in time to have the questions placed on the ballot.

Representatives for the district submitted an amended plan after the school board voted on May 29 to buy the Thanet property for administrative offices. The state has not completed its review of the amended application.

Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane did not respond to an email from Planet Princeton asking for the date when the amended plan was filed with the state. He did say the original plan was filed April 18. The entire plan for nine proposed projects had to be resubmitted.

“The Princeton Public Schools received notice today that the New Jersey Department of Education is still in the process of reviewing the district’s facilities referendum plans, along with multiple projects from other New Jersey school districts,” reads a statement from the administration for the school district that was issued in a press release by the new communications director for the district Tuesday afternoon.

School officials claim that the state has not been able to approve the Princeton project because of a state backlog for reviews. “Due to the backlog, the state review is not yet complete, and as a result, the referendum ballot question will not be on the Board of Education’s agenda tonight,” reads the statement.

The next possible date for the referendum to be on the ballot would be Dec. 11. The revised date for the vote will be determined after the state approves the plan.

“We remain excited about the facilities referendum and will continue to communicate the facts to our community as we plan to address needed improvements to our buildings as well as needed space for our current and growing student population,”  Cochrane said.

“Our goal continues to be to make critical upgrades to our security and HVAC systems at all six schools while expanding our capacity with needed and innovative spaces that are cost-effective, sustainable, and supportive of how our students learn and how our teachers teach. We recognize the importance of this vote to our current students and staff, to the generations of students to come, and to a community with a tradition rooted in high quality education for all,” Cochrane said. “We will take advantage of this additional time to ensure that everyone has accurate information about the district’s needs for space and security, the impact of the proposal on learning and wellness, and the associated costs both short and long-term.”

Please share your thoughts on this story.

10 comments
  • How is the educational process moving with all of this extra effort being microfocused on the referendum.

  • Well, this half-baked plan certainly needs more time in the oven. The enrollments at the elementary schools are actually pretty stable with the exception of CP. That school is bulging. How about building a combined 5/6 or CP annex and administration building of 4-5 stories on the Valley Road site? Yes, it will be tall but it would ALSO be cheaper.

    I am still not seeing the pedagogical point of the PHS plan. If teachers were so anxious to conduct classes in the extroverted way instead of in classrooms, they’d be outside on the front lawn ALL THE TIME. Is that happening? NOPE. (I weep for the kids with ADD if they have to learn in a lobby). The board really needs to buckle down and go back to the drawing board. Build a couple more classrooms at PHS — Classrooms first, THEN a dedicated wrestling loft, second turf field, etc. etc. By the way, has the fire marshall had a gander at the blueprints? Fire drills will be a challenge — let alone evacuating in an actual fire.

    I am still amazed the board just caved on their main bargaining point for PHS, which was trying to get something more in return for renewing the Cranbury contract. As several pro-school people I know have commented, the PHS overcrowding is literally because of Cranbury. People are asking why should Princetonians take on $60 million in debt to accommodate kids from another town, in another county, who by the way only have to pay a set tuition for each kid it sends. Wouldn’t it be better to end Cranbury (however much we love them) and have a major one-time increase in the budget of $3 million instead of taking on $60 million in debt? Total over the 30-year term would be $90 million instead of $200 million or so, I think. Anyway, the cost would have been something like that. I’m not feeling “mathy” today in this heat.

  • Folks may also send word of concern about PPS referendums to:
    Dr. Lamont Repollet, Commissioner
    NJ Department of Education,
    PO Box 500, Trenton, NJ 08625-0500

  • With intense spin & gravity sucking in everything we call “home”, the Black Hole at the center of Planet Princeton’s galaxy is PPS District headquarters. Top heavy PPS just added 3 new admins, including a $80,000 “Communications Director” (paid for by taxpayers) to create more spin. Citing mechanisms that allow “hardship” appeals, the Packet reported PPS’s intent to appeal dissenting voter decisions again & again at the State levels. Since there’s a limit to what many residents in Princeton can afford & a limit to what residents with reason will allow, we must question the despotic rule of PPS in our town. While present BOE members aren’t responsible for the massively expensive design failures we’re presently funding, they do have a duty to act responsibly going forward. While elitists on the Board clearly don’t know what life on a budget feels like here, they are supposed to represent residents who do. The flaw in this BOEs defined mission is the one that designates them visionaries for community building, when clearly none are qualified. A “hardship” appeal from this Super will make Princeton a laughing stock, once the numbers & the people who our spending has really helped are exposed (spoiler alert, it’s not students). The State wisely reviews the facility plans submitted by underserved districts with true hardships first. One hopes PPS staff doesn’t throw embarrassing tantrums (like they did with our Charter neighbors), about conditions that PHS/JW kids & their Teachers have accepted like the Champions they are for over a decade. This is getting interesting.

  • What is the exact total of all PPS construction costs & facility bonds still open/outstanding today being funded by Princeton taxpayers? How much do the bonds make for investors? There’s the big one for PHS & JW, subsequent ones to fix the elementary schools… anyone out there keeping the tally? Krystal? (we know we voted for & today paying down over 109 million in principal for PPS: the 81.2 million bond, the 10.8 million cost overrun, the 4.6/8 million settlement to Ernest Bock & Sons, the 10.98 million 2012 facilities bond & more before interest ). Input appreciated.

  • What is going seemingly unreported is that it is a 30-year bond! The current bond was only 20 years and we’ve seen how many needs arose during that time. What is going to happen in 20 years when the district has new needs? There will then be no financial flexibility as we’ll still have 10 years of the new onerous bond to pay off. Even if the new construction is justified, it appears that the district and town is headed to a financial debt catastrophe. The bond needs to be defeated if we want to preserve the health of our schools 20 years from now.

  • Does this mean that overburdened Princeton taxpayers, especially its dying middle class, get a temporary reprieve from further increases to already outrageous combined property taxes?

  • While the referendum will not be on the ballot, 3 members of the board will be. We need to organize so the elections will send a clear message and change the dynamics of the board.

  • This provides yet another example of how the Board has been mismanaging this entire process by rushing its poorly formed proposals to a vote. It is worth noting that, on the eve of what was supposed to be the vote, the Board has yet to provide details to the public of the total ongoing operating costs for these expansion plans (ie. total staffing costs, ongoing maintenance costs, general operating costs, etc.), the impact of this on the overall operating budget (which has been growing at a rate of 3.227% a year for the past five years), or how they will pay for this yearly growth. Based on what they have provided it is clear that the operating budget will likely grow at least 5-6% a year, clearly blowing a hole in the district’s budget. How will the district cover the costs of this growth while remaining within the 2% tax increase cap? The Board hasn’t said, yet was still prepared to vote on this tonight. Let’s hope this delay encourages members of the Board to serve in the capacity to which they were elected – to work together as a deliberative body that asks hard questions and demands that ALL decisions be evidence-based EVEN if that means rejecting certain proposals from the administration. Ahh… one can dream, perhaps…

  • These people….how is this a mid afternoon announcement on the day of the BofE meeting that was scheduled for placement on the ballot to be voted on? Did they entertain the idea that they’d get the missing State approval the day of the vote?

    Plus, I’m curious what the State Education Department’s perspective is on the reason for the delay.

    Hope is not a plan, which seems to be the story of this whole school funding adventure…

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