Planet Princeton

Princeton couple files appeal with NJ Commissioner of Education challenging Cranbury sending and receiving agreement

Princeton residents Corrine O’Hara and Joel Schwartz have filed an appeal with the New Jersey Commissioner of Education challenging the 10-year renewal of the sending and receiving agreement that allows Cranbury to pay tuition to send its students to Princeton High School.

The couple is calling on Commissioner Lamont Repollet to repeal the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education’s decision to renew the sending and receiving agreement for 2020 to 2030. Cranbury students have attended Princeton High School  since 1988.

“The sending-receiving agreement has a very large impact, not just on Princeton High School, but on the entire Princeton community,” O’Hara said. “Inevitably, it diverts resources from our pressing need to achieve equitable educational outcomes for all of the students in Princeton.”

Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane said district officials are currently in the process of reviewing the petition with the school district;s attorney. “We do not believe the lawsuit has any merit,” Cochrane said. “We look forward to a favorable decision from the Commissioner of Education.”

O’Hara and Schwartz contend that the Princeton Board of Education based its decision to renew the agreement on inadequate and inaccurate information, that the agreement has negative financial impacts on the taxpayers of Princeton, that the extra students are a burden on Princeton High School facilities, that the arrangement exacerbates a racial imbalance at the high school and perpetuates existing minority achievement gaps, and that the agreement creates “an inequitable outcome” for Princeton residents.

In the petition, the couple contends that the agreement is unjustified and harmful because:

– the circumstances that prompted the original agreement  no longer exist

-the agreement is based on uncertain and untested enrollment and economic assumptions.

-the presence of Cranbury students at the high school causes overcrowding that would not exist otherwise

-that a significant portion of the the current bond referendum proposed by the board of education for the expansion of Princeton High School  would not be necessary without the extra Cranbury students

-that virtually the entire economic burden of the Princeton High School expansion falls solely on Princeton, not Cranbury, taxpayers

-that a disproportionate impact will be felt by the Princeton property owners least able to bear this additional financial burden.

-that the entire burden of traffic and the environmental impacts from busing and driving students to and from Cranbury falls on Princeton residents

-that better options exist for Cranbury students in neighboring school districts closer to Cranbury.

The petition also  contends that the Cranbury Representative on the Princeton Board of Education, Evelyn Spann, illegally voted on the June 12 contract renewal and that she has repeatedly and regularly voted illegally on matters upon which she is barred  by statute from voting on.

The couple also argues that the new 10-year contract was approved in haste and that there were not enough opportunities for the public to provide input on the decision. The couple also says the board should have conducted a feasibility study to properly evaluate whether the sending and receiving agreement should be renewed.

Schwartz and O-Hara are seeking an order from the commissioner declaring the new sending and receiving agreement null and void,  an order setting a schedule for a feasibility study examining the appropriateness of the sending and receiving agreement, and an order limiting the items the Cranbury liaison can vote on as set forth by state statute.

O’Hara also said the agreement has “a profound impact” on families in Cranbury “and not always a positive one.”

“The Cranbury students are wonderful; I know some of them,” she said. “However, one must question the wisdom of forcing children to travel so far — across all of West Windsor and Plainsboro, home to two of the best high schools in the state — twice a day, to get to and from Princeton High School.”

In July, O’Hara and Schwartz also filed a lawsuit in Mercer County Superior Court challenging the electronic voting system the Princeton Board of Education uses, claiming the system violates the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act. The court date for a hearing in that case is Sept. 27.

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Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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