Princeton Public Schools board should scrap and redo facilities plan

An open letter to parents of Princeton Public Schools children:

The $130 million school referendum vote has been postponed again due to delays in obtaining New Jersey Department of Education approval. Previously, the $130 million referendum was scheduled for a taxpayer vote on October 2, then separated into two ballot questions, and rescheduled for November 6. As I have indicated before, there are no new teachers budgeted within the $130 million school bond that, if approved, will cost almost $300 million to repay with interest and higher operating expenses. This is wasteful spending that will subtract from our children’s academic experience.

Thirty residents attended the September 4 Princeton Board of Education meeting and spoke in opposition to the referendum. The Board of Education was provided a petition signed by 140 residents opposing the referendum. A long term Princeton resident and former mayor spoke in opposition to the referendum and the “overcrowding” that is the basis for the proposed high school expansion.

Others spoke about the unaffordable impact on the low income community. The petition asked that the referendum vote be postponed a year, until November of 2019, to allow time for the Board of Education “Do its homework.”

I believe it is time for the board of education to pull this ill-conceived and poorly designed facilities plan, and start anew. The board of education plan is not worthy of our support. There are better plans that would allow us to address our critical facility needs and still hire new teachers. Please be aware that while student enrollment has increased over 12% the last ten years, our full time equivalent teaching staff has increased only 2.3%. In other words, on a per pupil basis, we have fewer teachers today than ten years ago and the $130 million facilities plan will only make this worse.

The proposed new grade 5/6 school is glitzy, but experimental. We know that bullying increases with the transition to middle school. I prefer to continue to nurture our children in our four elementary schools.

We can relieve overcrowding at Princeton High School by ending the Cranbury send and receive agreement. It is wasteful to borrow $58 million to expand the high school and provide “flexible learning spaces” for 280 students from outside our community. New Jersey law does not allow a sending school to participate in the school referendum and share all the costs and risks that Princeton, the receiving school, must assume.

We need to unify our community behind a responsible and fiscally sustainable facilities plan. The Princeton Public Schools have critical facilities needs that will not be addressed any time soon if the board of education continues to promote their plan that has virtually no community support.

It is time for parents of Princeton Public Schools children to ask the board of education to withdraw this plan, so we can develop a new plan with community support, to address the critical facilities needs of our schools.

Please forward this letter to parents of Princeton Public School children and ask them to contact the board of education to address the critical facilities needs of our schools by withdrawing their plan that lacks critical community support.

Daniel Dart, parent of Princeton Public Schools student

Mr. Dart is a candidate for the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education 

One Comment

  1. Mr. Dart, you have hit the nail on the head. The 30 (might have been 32) public speakers at Tuesday’s BOE meeting laid out the many weaknesses with the current $130M proposal. In addition to the very good points in your letter:
    1) The purchase of the Thanet Road property is wasteful and amounts to a speculative real estate deal with very little chance of renting out the unused space. Administrative offices there would use only about 17% of the total, based on today’s office square feet.
    2) Residents have asked since April for the projected operating costs of these new facilities – additional administrators, more custodians and cafeteria workers, possibly more teachers with a separate grades 5/6 school, utility costs, increased insurance with two new facilities, outsourced maintenance, and probable increased busing costs with a new “destination.” We have seen nothing from the Board in the five months since. (Mr. Cochrane did say Tuesday that additional staff and HVAC might cost $1.7M/year, but this does not cover all of the above, nor have we seen line item estimates and how they were derived in writing.)
    3) Our school district has exceeded the NJ State cap of 2%/year school tax increases every year for some time now, and there is no reason to believe that this will stop – even with no new facilities. In fact school spending increases have averaged 3.2%/year over the last five years.

    4) With the new Federal income tax limit of $10,000 on property and state income tax deductions, high taxed Princeton residents will suffer even more going forward.

    Over 165 people signed a petition – just over the Labor Day weekend and on Monday – asking the BOE to step back, take a deep breath, and offer us a less expensive plan that addresses the most critical needs, e.g. security and HVAC, of our schools – not all the “nice to haves.” This was presented to the Board at Tuesday’s meeting and more names have been added with each passing day.

    Princeton’s taxpayers deserve a new plan that addresses the realities of the community, and maintains the diversity we all cherish – rather than forcing low income residents and seniors out of their homes.

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