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Election 2019: Four candidates are vying for three seats on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education

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Princeton Public Schools candidates forum 2019
(l-r): Princeton Board of Education candidates Debbie Bronfeld, Susan Kanter, Dafna Kendal and Gregory Stankiewicz at the League of Women Voters forum. Photo: Anna Savoia, Princeton Community Television.

On Nov. 5, voters in Princeton will choose three school board members to serve on the ten-member school board for the Princeton Public Schools. The board oversees local education policies and a $100 million budget that is primarily funded by taxpayers.

Incumbent school board member Deb Bronfeld, newcomer Susan Kanter, former school board member Dafna Kendal, and school board vice president Gregory Stankiewicz are seeking three-year terms that begin in January of 2020.

At a recent forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the candidates discussed issues ranging from budget cuts and tax increases to hiring a planner for a future referendum, purchasing Westminster Choir College, and re-negotiating the sending/receiving relationship with Cranbury, which pays Princeton tuition to send its students to Princeton High School.

The biggest debates among candidates at the forum were about whether Cranbury is paying its fair share to Princeton, and whether the state’s two-percent cap on tax levy increases should be lifted or not.

” I’m very much in favor of taking a look at the 2% cap,” said Stankiewicz, who is completing his first term on the board.

“What we’re doing across the state is squeezing our districts year after year, even in places like in Princeton, where there’s a lot of growth in terms of the wealth of the community,” Stankiewicz said. “It can’t be accessed by our students in our schools. We are starving ourselves. What does it mean to try to look at the 2% cap? It just means that we allow ourselves a little bit more flexibility. It can be done in terms of having the population itself vote, but why should you as families of students be forced to see cuts after cuts year after year —  one example, if we do open a new school, there used to be an exemption to the 2% cap to staff the school up, that no longer exists. We don’t have the flexibility and we need that because it would still be up to the taxpayers. We would give them a way of helping deal with really difficult fiscal situations.”

Kendal, who lost her bid for reelection last year by fewer than 100 votes, said she thinks the 2% cap should stay. “I’m in favor of it. It’s a very popular measure in New Jersey,” she said. “The school board has a $100 million budget, and I believe we need to find a way to more efficiently use taxpayer dollars. Another thing that we need to do is increase revenues.”

She cited voluntary payments as one way to increase revenues, and said she was successful in negotiating a voluntary payment from the Institute for Advanced Study, an additional voluntary payment from the Princeton Theological Seminary, and a voluntary payment from another unnamed institution during her time on the school board. “We need to continue to do that. We cannot continue to look to the taxpayer as a blank check. It’s just not going to be sustainable,” Kendal said. “I moved here in 2011 and my taxes have gone up 40% since we moved here. That’s just not sustainable.”

Bronfeld, who is completing her first term on the board, said she thinks the school board needs to work smarter with the funds it already has. She suggested that the district look at ways to save money on utilities and other expenses. “We need to re-imagine our transportation , and take advantage of more online resources for professional development to reduce our travel costs,” Bronfeld said. “We need to approve all field trips based on their total cost to the district, and reduce our healthcare costs by increasing enrollment in  health savings plans. We need to add teaching responsibilities to supervisors to fluctuate with course demands, and as staff members retire, maybe we should be teaching certain classes in an auditorium setting that’s a larger class. We also need to evaluate all of our overtime and stipend payments.”

Kanter, a PTO leader at the high school, did not give her opinion about the tax cap. “Being new to the board, I’m not sure how much all of those things proposed would affect the budget, but I’m certainly in favor of looking at all those things,” she said, referring to Bronfeld’s suggestions. “However, I’m kind of glad the board is hopefully changing the way they put together their budget this year, taking a longer term starting point. They’re going to zero based budgeting, and not just taking last year’s budget and bring it up and down but starting with each line at zero, and I’m very excited to see what those savings could be if that comes up without affecting our students, and I think hopefully that can lead to some savings and also to have the larger portion of the board be involved in the budget. When you start earlier, you can work on the budget longer, so I think those kinds of things could bring some savings, and then long-term things like putting in solar that maybe could change our energy costs, and explore things that could work on our monthly operational costs.”

Kendal said there are two exceptions to the 2% cap — one for rising enrollment and the other for health care costs. “The district avails themselves of those exemptions when they exist, and I support that,” she said. “But we had a situation this year where eight supervisors — eight of the 29 supervisors — turned over. That was a time for the school board to look and say let’s consolidate some of the positions. The science supervisor left and the math supervisor left. Maybe we could have had one STEAM  position (instead).”

Stankiewicz said budget cuts won’t cover the shortfall, and the district needs more money. “We’re in a budget shortfall of such a magnitude that we can’t cut our way out of it,” he said. “We’ll do everything possible to be more efficient, and this board is committed to that, and you’ve heard this tonight, but we cannot cut our way out of it. Our services are already suffering, and I want to make sure that we have as many options as possible. There is a waiver for an increase in students, but it’s not given every year and it doesn’t impact a wealthy community like Princeton, which is mostly where the money comes from, the local property tax levy. We need to be able to grow with the growth of the community. We can’t right now.”

Bronfeld said the board does not have to balance the budget based on laying off employees. “We weren’t given a lot of options when the budget came through, and I didn’t vote yes on the budget because I was so frustrated that we weren’t given options,” she said. “I feel there are so many things out there  — and we have so many smart people in our town who can come up and give us ideas — teachers and students, but we have to do that. I was pushing and pushing for us to even start looking at the budget for next year last May, which we slowly have, but people need to make hard decisions and I feel I can do that.”

Budget issues are one of the reasons Kanter said she was in favor of the school board’s decision last month to hire a Connecticut-based consultant for $143,605 to look at the district’s space needs in the future. “This work that we’re talking about on the budget is going to be highly time-consuming if you do it the correct way,,” she said. “if you go to zero budgeting, you look creatively on how can we do things differently. I think right now that’s the bandwidth that the board needs to be focused on so we don’t have to make teacher cuts if we don’t have to in the future.”

Kanter also said the board spent a lot of money for the last referendum and got a plan that wasn’t right for the community. “I think it’s more expensive not to have someone help with the planning. We did not in the last referendum do a good job with outreach to many of our community members,” Kanter said. “People don’t necessarily come in to tell you their opinions. You have to go to them. In the last referendum, I don’t think we did a good job in doing that. Also this board is ten people that are volunteer time and to plan and to answer all the questions involved in a referendum of this scope is very difficult, and lastly that the state will contribute funds toward this and that even shows how important they think it is to have this done in a professional manner.”

Kendal said she didn’t think the district needed to hire a planner for a new referendum so soon after passing the last referendum. “We have a $27 million referendum that was passed in December, and only three or four projects have been implemented, and I think just going back to the 2001 referendum — in my service on the board last year, a lot of feedback I got was there was a lack of trust with the board and their ability to see through referendum projects. One example that was given was the high school performing arts center, and the continual flooding that’s going there,” Kendal said. ” So I think it’s very important for the board — before asking the community for more money — to show that we’re responsible stewards of the money that we’ve been given already.”

Stankiewicz said he supported hiring Milone and  MacBroom as a consultant because the firm does educational planning and is well known for community engagement. “I agree with my fellow board members here and fellow candidates that there was a lack of trust last year, and so how do we overcome that trust — we work with one of the best firms possible that will show us how to best engage with all of you, and that’s what we need going forward,” Stankiewicz said. “We’ve got issues of space or lack thereof.  We’ve increased our student population 10% over the last six years. We’ve got issues of just old facilities. We need to think through not just what to plan for, but how to do it in a number of different ways, with lots of different options with the community involved every step of the way.”

Bronfeld said she voted against hiring the firm. “I feel that we have our house, and we need to make sure that we take care of that $27 million and that we spend that correctly. We had a big major issue at Riverside. We had to start school a day late there. I don’t feel we have the ability to be able to take on anything else right now,” Bronfeld said. “For me, we need to work on the house we have and not our summer beach house, which to me is what the M&M planners are going to be doing, so I completely voted no. I don’t feel like we’re at the point where we need this. We’re putting four classrooms at Princeton High and three classrooms at JW. I’d like to see how we use those classrooms with our current population. I also know there is space in our high school and we haven’t optimized all our space. Our tech department has a lot of room that could be managed differently and there’s a room next to it, a  gallery, that could be turned into a classroom. I feel we need to work with the referendum that the community approved, and we need to make sure we do that correctly and not have another issue like there was with the performing arts center several years ago.”

Regarding the sending and receiving relationship with Cranbury, Bronfeld and Kendal said the school board needs to make sure Cranbury is paying its fair share to Princeton. Bronfeld and Kendal both said Cranbury was not paying its fair share for special education costs for a couple of years. Bronfeld said she would support the terms of the relationship being revisited.

“I thank Dafna for bringing that up, because that is money that we are now going to get into our operating costs,” Bronfeld said. “The other thing is, it’s very hard for people when they hear oh, your high school is overcrowded, but you have this other school coming in and they’re not paying one penny towards any referendum. Legally they do not have to pay one penny towards the referendum, however their taxes went down recently.  I don’t know what percent, but their taxes went down recently in Cranbury. It was in the paper. It would be really nice if they would come to the table and give us some money for a referendum if that’s the way we go, or even for the referendum we currently have that is adding to the high school.”

Kanter said she found the word “revisiting” troubling. “We’re talking about students that have been in our school for 30 years. I am never against, let’s say, re-examining how the agreement works, but I think we have to be very careful when we’re using words and we’re talking about kids, and so re-examining how that agreement works financially is always in a good interest, making sure or the standard payments are made, and looking at it to see what we could do to come up with what’s best for both of our districts. I’m never against re-looking,” she said. “We should never just say the status quo is the status quo, but revisiting our kids — Cranbury kids should never feel they’re not a part of our school, because they’re a very important part of our school.”

Bronfeld clarified that she has nothing against any students. “To me it would be a matter of goodwill if that town gave us money. It has nothing to do with individual people,” Bronfeld said. “To me it’s more an issue of, their taxes going down and then they push on us to make our schools bigger, and it would be nice to share — sharing of resources, sharing of funds, sharing of ideas. So for me it’s really sharing  to see how we can work together.”

Kendal said she thinks the sending and receiving agreement is a net positive for Princeton and that terminating the agreement would be a long and costly process. “I’m more focused on having Cranbury abide by the terms of the contract, for example, I raised concerns last year when the send/receive agreement was being renewed about special education costs that Cranbury was paying, and I found out that unilaterally the business administrator had reduced the amount Cranbury was paying from $180,000 to $80,000, without board approval,” Kendal said. “And so given that I have a special education background, I understood that the $80,000 Cranbury was paying for the 48 students with IEPs was very low, and so finally this spring a board member took up the case and it was found that Cranbury underpaid the district by $166,000 last year.”

Stankiewicz disagreed with Kendal and Bronfeld’s statements and said he wanted to correct a couple of misperceptions.  “I think and it’s really important for everyone to focus on the real truth. Number one on the special ed. agreement with Cranbury. That was a provision that we put in that we didn’t measure in one year, and we’ve revisited that, and thanks to the board focusing on that, no one knew it was a net positive or a net negative to any side, but we had a different way under law of calculating it before. We’ve switched to it now, and so going forward we’ll have the data,” he said. “Second, Cranbury does pay a portion of the debt burden by law. It’s required to and it does.”

Kendal then responded and said she was being truthful. “I’ve always been honest and I’ll continue to be. Cranbury didn’t pay the correct amount for two years, and it was the terms of the contract. It’s actually the law that special education students needed to be calculated separately, and the district wasn’t doing it, and the administration wasn’t doing it, because it was too much work,” she said. “That’s not acceptable, especially when we’re laying off teachers.”

Rumors have been swirling since the summer that the school district is trying once again to buy Westminster Choir College, and that the municipality is looking for ways to help the district purchase the school, possibly even buying the school with the help of a private partner and swapping it with the school district in exchange for the Valley Road School property. In a phone interview in September with Planet Princeton, Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane and Stankiewicz, who was also on the call, both denied that the district is considering buying Westminster again and said “that’s news to us” when presented with the rumors.

Bronfeld and Kendal both said they oppose purchasing Westminster Choir College for the school district. Stankiewicz and Kanter left the door open to a possible purchase in their comments.

“We looked at Westminster. The board looked in Westminster in late 2016 and early 2017. We put a bid in for $40  million. I was very glad that our bid was rejected. I don’t want to be a part of destroying a world-renowned music institution,” Kendal said. “What I do support is, if it ever comes to pass, is buying some of the land that is adjacent to John Witherspoon and Princeton High School. Additionally, Westminster has a foundation and they’ve engaged a very aggressive attorney and so any attempt to buy Westminster would again mire the district in years of litigation and again spending money that could be better spent on students.”

Bronfeld said she agreed 100% with Kendal.  “I would love to get a portion of the property that’s between JW and  PHS for some parking and a field, but no more,” Bronfeld said. “I agree it’s a beautiful school and you read the letters of people who went there in the alumni and they’re just — their hearts are  breaking — and again they have been in litigation three years now and it’s not going anywhere, and it’s just not where we should be, and we would never be making it a music school, so for me it would be just to get a little corner so we could have more parking and another field or two, but it’s not on my radar at all.”

Stankiewicz said he wouldn’t want to say anything in advance of whatever the situation is, because it’s a “fluid” situation. “I’ve heard and read the reports and I think the rest of the board has as well,” he said. “I’d like to focus instead on the importance of planning as a community and planning various options, because we have a lot of different. creative out-of-the-box ways of thinking about how we can create more space, and that includes state laws that were just passed that allow for public-private partnerships that would actually save money, that would allow for inter-local agreements. There’s so many different things, and none of us know all the different things and none of you, but all of us together working with professionals, we can look at various options in various creative ways to solve our problems and that would include,  I would say, any option that might be available at that time. We just don’t know right now. “

Kanter said because she has not been on the board, she doesn’t know some of the private conversations that have been had, but I think this is a great time to circle back to when the town and the school work together, and in terms of districting and planning and coming up with what’s the best way to meet the needs of what the district is going to have in terms of enrollment, while fitting into what the town sees and where the growth in  the town is going to be. So I don’t want to hold myself to Westminster , or not Westminster. It’s more how does this puzzle fit together in terms of a long-term plan?”

Following is a full transcript of the 2019 League of Women Voters forum for candidates for the Princeton Public School Board of Education that we transcribed for readers who want more detailed information on where all the candidates stand. At the end of the transcript you can also view theo full video of the forum.

Opening statements by the four candidates

Debbie Bronfeld: My name is Deb Bronfeld and I’m honored to be here for a second time, and I’d like to thank the League of Women Voters for this opportunity. My family and I have lived in Princeton for over 20 years and both my boys attended little Brook, JW, and Princeton High School. During my next three years on the board I plan to make our schools better without making them a bigger tax burden on our community. My first focus will be on the budget. We need a fair and sustainable budget. We need to restore funding to all our reserve accounts in case of emergencies, and we need to work smarter with the funding we currently have. We also need to meet with the institutions in town to discuss funding opportunities with the district. My second focus will be on student climate and culture. I will continue to focus on improving the health, wellness and safety of all our students in areas such as vaping, smarter homework assignments, mental health, bullying, suicidal thoughts, cheating, stress, life after PHS, offering music and drama with more passion than perfection, offering more life skills like financial literacy, and trying to have more engaged and connected students. I will push to support diverse learning for all students and I will continue to help all our students receive their high school degrees. Finally I will focus on facilities. We need consistent maintenance and cleaning of our current buildings and grounds. We need to optimize space utilization in all our buildings, and we must hold our contract management company responsible for all referendum projects with complete budget transparency. I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts and ideas with you this evening.

Susan Kanter: Hi I’m Susan Cantor and I’m running for the Board of Education to help ensure that every student finds joy, achievement and connection in our schools. I’ve lived in Princeton for over 20 years and my three children recently graduated from the Princeton Public Schools. After my own public school education, I graduated from Duke University in 1985 with degrees in economics and political science, and worked for 23 years as VP of operations at a large multinational wholesaler, where I was responsible for budgeting, projections and personnel. After retiring, I volunteered extensively in the schools, most recently serving five years as the Princeton High School PTO co-president and there I focused on issues of student equity, community and wellness. Currently I serve as treasurer for both the 101 Fund and the Princeton Children’s Fund, two organizations that help provide vital financial support and mentorship to families living in financial insecurity. Last year’s referendum rollout demonstrated the need for more communication, community partnership, research and planning before significant projects are proposed. I led more than a dozen tours of the high school, bringing over 500 members of our community through the school as the Board of Ed coalesced around a scaled-back referendum that addressed some of the facilities’ most urgent needs. Although parents and community members expressed different opinions about priorities for facility improvements and expansions, participants consistently told me the tour provided them with a much more informed understanding of the challenges the referendum was intended to address. From that experience, I understand even more fully how important listening, outreach, transparency, accountability and communication are for the community to have confidence in the board of ed’s decisions. And we will need the community’s confidence to tackle the important issues of equity, achievement, budget, wellness, facility planning and sustainability.

Dafna Kendal: Hi good evening my name is Daphna Kendall. Thank you to Chrystal and the League of Women Voters and PrincetonCommunity TV for holding this forum. Thank you to everyone here tonight, and of course the other candidates participating in this forum. I am running for the school board because I want to ensure that every child receives an excellent education, that the board is focused on fiscal responsibility, and that we are maintaining our existing facilities so that buildings are healthy for staff and students. For the 2019-20 school year budget, the school board raised taxes by the maximum allowed by law, while reducing staff by 3%, even while enrollment continues to rise. This has resulted in increased class sizes and reduced essential classes for students as well.  While I agree that budget cuts had to be made, the budget could have been balanced without impacting learning. While three percent of staff was eliminated, not one supervisory position was cut. Tough decisions have to be made. We must be careful not to sacrifice the quality of education. We must make decisions in the best interest of the students, given budgetary constraints, and avoid harmful cuts if at all possible. My prior experience as a school board member will allow me to get to work right away to work on restoring the focus of the district on to educating students. If budget cuts are needed next year, my experience will help to guide cuts that won’t directly impact students. I also understand the concern of taxpayers and the need to use taxpayer dollars more efficiently. During my prior board term, I negotiated $800,000 in voluntary payments and believe this is an avenue the school board must continue to pursue. Additionally, the board wasn’t sure that Cranbury pays its fair share. I learned last year that the contract for the sending/receiving agreement was not being followed by either board. This summer, it was determined that Cranbury owed our district $166,000 for services already provided in 2018-19. This is money that could have helped to alleviate some staff cuts, especially at our elementary schools. Finally we must ensure that our buildings are environmentally safe for students and staff. 

Gregory Stankiewicz: My name is Gregory Stankiewicz. I’m also running for re-election for a second term and I’m running for the same reason that many of you are here today. My family moved to Princeton because we were drawn to a very engaged, supportive community that values public education. I’d like to run for re-election to maintain and enhance that tradition going forward. There are a number of areas I wanted to highlight that this board has done a great deal of work on. One, the community voted on a $26.9 million referendum last year. We hold that as a trust and we’re implementing that now, so over the summer we added air conditioning into the high school, air conditioning to Riverside, and upgraded electrical systems in all four elementary schools. We have a lot more to do, but I think that’s a we’re working really hard on that. Number two, we need state-level help because the type of budget situation that we faced this year, and the type of budget situation frankly we’re going to face in the future is of a magnitude that we cannot cut our way out of this budget gap. We need to increase revenues and we need to increase the help from the state, because it’s the state cutbacks that have led to this situation. Number three, vaping is a tremendous issue facing students all across the country, and so we here in Princeton, this board, has upgraded its policies around vaping and worked with the administration on proven methods of how to help students who are vaping, and this is just like tobacco, a public health hazard that needs work, and so I’m going to be talking about my priorities going forward, but I just wanted to again just acknowledge the work that was done by my fellow board members over the last three years and the work that we’ve done the last nine months, and I want to continue that going forward. 

Q&A Forum (questions submitted by the audience) 

1) Last week the board voted to hire planning consultant Milone and  MacBroom  to help the district address the challenges created by an increasing student population and aging facilities. Do you agree or disagree with this decision, and why or why not? How will you ensure that this will be a productive use of time and money?

Susan Kanter: I actually did agree with the hiring of the consultant. I found that the last referendum that we went through and spent a lot of money to get a plan that wasn’t right for our community, and I think it’s more expensive not to have someone help with the planning. We did not in the last referendum do a good job with outreach to many of our community members, those on fixed incomes, those that live in areas..People don’t necessarily come in to tell you their opinions. You have to go to them. In the last referendum, I don’t think we did a good job in doing that. Also this board is ten people that are volunteer time and to plan and to answer all the questions involved in a referendum of this scope is very difficult, and lastly that the state will contribute funds toward this and that even shows how important they think it is to have this done in a professional manner.

Dafna Kendal:  I agree that the district needed to hire a planner. I’m not sure it had to be done this October. We have a $27 million referendum that was passed in December, and only three or four projects have been implemented, and I think just going back to the 2001 referendum, in my service on the board last year, a lot of feedback I got was there was a lack of trust with the board and their ability to see through referendum projects. One example that was given was the high school performing arts center, and the continual flooding that’s going there, as one example. So I think it’s very important for the board — before asking the community for more money — to show that we’re responsible stewards of the money that we’ve been given already. 

Gregory Stankiewicz: I was one of the board members involved with community citizens as well to take a look at the request for the proposal for the planning. I’m very supportive of the hiring of Milone and  MacBroom and the reason I’m so supportive is that this is a firm that not only does planning,  but also does educational planning as well, but they’re most well known for community engagement and so I agree with my fellow board members here and fellow candidates that there was a lack of trust last year, and so how do we overcome that trust — we work with one of the best firms possible that will show us how to best engage with all of you, and that’s what we need going forward. We’ve got issues of space or lack thereof.  We’ve increased our student population 10% over the last six years. We’ve got issues of just old facilities. We need to think through not just what to plan for, but how to do it in a number of different ways, with lots of different options with the community involved every step of the way.

Debbie Bronfeld: I actually voted no on this. I feel that we have our house and we need to make sure that we take care of that  $27 million and that we spend that correctly. We had a big major issue at Riverside. We had to start school a day late. I don’t feel we have the ability  to be able to take on anything else right now. For me, we need to work on the house we have and not our summer beach house, which to me is what the M&M planners are going to be doing, so I completely voted no.  I don’t feel like we’re at the point where we need this. We’re putting four classrooms at Princeton High and three classrooms at JW. I’d like to see how we use those classrooms with our current population. I also know there’s space in our high school and we haven’t optimized all our space. Our tech department has a lot of room that could be managed differently and there’s a room next to it, a  gallery, that could be turned into a classroom. I feel we need to work with the referendum that the community approved, and we need to make sure we do that correctly and not have another issue like there was with the performing arts center several years ago.

Dafna  Kendal: I just think we need to be careful when we hire consultants. Princeton. as I’ve learned. is a different animal than other towns. Last year the architect that we worked for with the referendum had dozens of referendums throughout New Jersey and he was really caught flat-footed working in Princeton. I think we just have to be careful and really not put all our eggs in the consultant basket.

Gregory Stankiewicz:  I’d like to disagree on those points. Number one is, we need and we heard from the community how we need to plan this together. Number two we’re going to have workshops going through. Number three, there’s also cost savings in doing things in a rational comprehensive planning manner. It cost us $450,000 for one trailer with $50,000 from our operating budget in addition. If we don’t do planning now and we have to put more trailers up, that’s money that’s going to come out of our operating budget and out of the taxpayers’ pockets. We can do better by working together and planning together

Susan Kanter:  I also agree that we should start the process sooner than later. What I’m seeing in the facilities committee when I’m going to the meetings is that putting the referendum into place needs a long runway. It takes a long time for each of these projects to get planned correctly, to be bid correctly so that they can be as inexpensive as possible, so to start the planning process even if you don’t start the implementation process —  I think is the right move for our community.

Debbie Bronfeld: So one thing we also heard was that the demographer’s numbers were wrong,  wrong, wrong. And we’re still waiting for the demographer’s numbers, so for me to approve a plan when we don’t even know what our population is going to be…it is frustrating because I just feel like we’re putting the horse before the cart and it’s not the right time.

Question: Many in the town are concerned that the district and board do not have the capacity or ability to execute large, complicated construction projects. Examples are water leaking into Princeton High School near the new auditorium, this year’s delay in opening Riverside Elementary, and the previous referendum, which ended with litigation over cost overruns. What in your view are the sources of the problem and how would you address them

Dafna Kendal:  The sources of the problem have to do with oversight. I don’t think the school board itself  is going to be the construction manager, and we haven’t been and I don’t think that’s the role of the school board. But it just seems that time and time again the school board engages with consultants and experts who don’t have the best interests of Princeton in mind. When I was on the board — the referendum in 2001 was the most recent large referendum that had been approved — and when I was on the board  in 2017, we were still settling litigation from that, so I think we need to be careful who we work with and really be critical and ask questions, and be sure that they understand how unique Princeton is.

Gregory Stankiewicz: I’d be lying here if I would be telling you that everything is going to go perfectly on any construction project. As anyone who’s done construction knows, there are always issues. How do you overcome it? With good oversight and a good team. we’ve spent the last six or seven months putting together what I think is a fantastic team. We have a new director of facilities who serves as our project manager. We have a construction management firm with a very good reputation who has worked with our architect in the past, and we have a very engaged board that meets publicly at every facilities committee meeting, and a board as a whole that reports back to the community on a regular basis. That’s the way we’re going to be able to move forward. We had a one-day delay in Riverside. We were aggressive in trying to put air conditioning into that school as a pilot for us for the other schools. I’m glad we did so. I’m sorry for the delay but I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons and it’s important for us to move forward for the safety and health of our students and our teachers.

Debbie Bronfeld:  I agree we need a lot, lot more oversight.  I love our new facilities director and he like walks around buildings. He was up on the roof the other day fixing the AC, so I’m really happy that he’s part of our group going forward. What’s frustrating for me is I also didn’t vote for this construction management company because they were the same ones that we had in 2001 when we had all the issues at the performing arts center at the high school that we still have. For me, I didn’t feel like they let me know that you know they accepted what they kind of did and went forward, so I’m a little hesitant in working with them because Riverside — you know I was told was really great and literally 48 hours later we were told there were issues and it was very hard on parents and families that they had to start Riverside a day late.  I have no idea what these working parents did with their kids for that day, and these are elementary school students. So we do need a lot of oversight, which is why I’m not rushing into anything and I’m glad that we do have all these facility meetings, but I feel like our construction management company needs to really be held accountable and that is something that I will keep doing it every meeting I go to. 

Susan Kanter: I also agree that we need to maintain  a vigilant oversight into the construction, and I think the planning ahead of time and working with each building is even more important, and I think it showed in Riverside that some of the issues occurred because at the start of the project, we didn’t handle things correctly so that the teachers could move back in and to  leave sufficient time so the buildings could be cleaned and maintained is also important. Having facility meetings every two weeks, although onerous on the members that have to go, and some of us in the public that go, I think is also really important because you have to stay on the people and make them report back and deal with the problems as they come up.  I think we can handle this, but I agree with everyone we can’t take our eye off the ball.  

Dafna Kendal: The most the most important thing in our district — the most important thing the board has to do — is to ensure the health and wellness of our students and staff and that didn’t happen at Riverside I don’t know what the exact issues were, but I agree with Debbie Bronfeld  that we should not have hired Epic again as our construction manager if only because of what happened in 2001 and because we’re trying to build trust with the community. 

Gregory Stankiewicz: We opened the school Riverside a day late, not because we had to because it could have been ready in time. We did it because the principal and the superintendent decided that the teachers deserved an extra day to prep their classes. We did it for the good of the students, and and that’s the type of thinking that this team has been putting together and working on and focusing on. We’re focusing on what’s best for our students and our teachers, and having air conditioning in all their classrooms, I believe, is what’s best for all our students and that’s what they deserve.

Question: How would you define “inclusion?”

Gregory Stankiewicz: Inclusion means that every student that walks the corridors of our schools feels that they’re in a warm, supportive, safe environment and that is a goal that this board and this administration team holds very dearly and I’ve watched over the last few years how we focused on that, including having an outside consultant come in and write an equity report from an outside perspective to tell us what we’re doing right and what we can do better. We are following that equity report and we’re going to be using what we call an “equity dashboard” going forward of data that holds ourselves accountable to trying to make sure that we try to make sure that every student from whatever background is feeling part of a community that’s so important to their their livelihood going forward in their lives.

Debbie Bronfeld:  To me, inclusion is making sure all our students receive an unrestricted public education. so it’s with our special ed children, it’s with our minority students,  it’s with all our students feeling they also belong to the school, that they’re part of the school, that they know someone in the school. I’m excited that we’re going to do a special ed audit also at our school. The equity audit that just mentioned was great because for me it was extremely eye-opening. and let  me realize that there’s a lot more that we need to do as a community. So inclusion to me is when you walk in that door, you feel like that’s your school, you feel like you can connect with someone, you feel like you belong to something, and you have your classes, you have your friends and want to make sure everybody feels walking in that they are part of that school and they make a difference in that school, and that everybody we see in our schools, we can support.

Susan Kanter: I of course will echo what Greg and Debbie have said so far. I would add that you want to make sure that people feel included and feel that they have a voice, so when things aren’t going well or where they’re feeling not part of the community, that they really feel that someone will listen to them and they will be heard. It’s  one thing on paper to say we’re going do things to make people feel included, but I think it’s really important for people, for the students, for the teachers to to be heard, when

that is not happening in our community and I agree what we learned in the equity report is that for students are not always feeling that. On paper do a lot of good things, but sometimes that doesn’t translate into actually how people are feeling every day.

Dafna Kendal: I have a tenth grader. He’s in special education. Inclusion in that context has a specific meaning and what that means is that these 17% of kids in Princeton have special education services and it means that they should be educated in the least restrictive environment.  I fully support that. The best practices for special education translate well for all students and the other part of inclusion is — one of the district’s goals is every child known and I’m a big believer in that. I think we need to get to know every child there I think last year there were 200 referrals of children for psychiatric services and that’s way too many.  I know our guidance department has done mountains of work to make children feel safe and known, especially at Princeton High School.

Gregory Stankiewicz: This will just be an add-on. I agree, and I actually liked what Miss Kanter said about the importance of voice, and I want to emphasize the importance of student voice because we are talking about our students, and so we need to listen and work with them, work with our student liaisons, and work with  students as well as teachers and the community and I look forward to doing that. 

Question: Are there any classes or programs at the high school that you believe should be made more available and any that you would consider eliminating?

Debbie Bronfeld: Classes I think we should make more available or more pertinent are classes  like financial literacy. We’re sending our kids out, and half of them wouldn’t even know how to write a check or balance a checkbook, and they’re going out in the world and they’re getting credit cards and earning debt, which is not the smart thing so I would want to offer a lot more financial literacy for our students. I also know so many students want to take computer classes and entry-level coding, and so I would want to add some more of that. In terms of eliminating, it’s not really eliminating as much as I would want to reduce some of the AP classes that we have and limit what some of the kids can take in a terms of AP classes per semester. Regarding other programs, I think you have to look at what the need is. It was interesting this year. We had a lot more kids signing up for art, and so we had to add another half teacher position, so if there’s time for art I’m curious what they’re not signing up for. I think it’s trends in terms of what the students want. I wouldn’t be the right one, because it would be what the students want, and what they’re seeing that’s out.

Susan Kanter:  Well obviously I think all classes should be inclusive. I think we need to do a better job, as the data has shown, making sure that certain classes of people in our schools have more access to those classes. Underrepresented it in the AP courses are students of color, students with IEPs or 504s, and we have to make sure that the classes are taught in a way that can be inclusive, and that they can participate in those classes equally as someone who is not like that. The other thing I would say is the student-based driver of what we offer is so important. Students wanted a class and racism. So what they’ve been doing lately is giving students choices of electives. They vote on before the class is offered, so then when the classes are there it’s available for them to sign up for and to be more data driven. Look at what people are actually taking eliminate those that they have no interest in and  offer more sections of those that are oversubscribed.

Dafna Kendal: The one class that I would like to be made more available is the racial literacy class that is taught by Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson and Patty Manheart. I think there was discussion about making that a mandatory class for students, and Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson and Patty Manhart did not want that. They want students who want to be in the class. But Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi had founded Princeton Choose. They came up with and they really started the conversation about racism in our schools, and they are advocating for a K-12 racial literacy curriculum, and that’s something that I would support wholeheartedly. I think we’re living in interesting times,and I think knowing and understanding everyone around us will make it easier for everyone to get along. 

Gregory Stankiewicz: I actually would like to echo Miss Bronfeld’s suggestions. I’m not sure I’m  in any position here to talk about specific classes or programs, but I do want to say something. Yesterday I had the privilege of reading a student’s essay about education, and this student talked about the importance of having a diversity of different types of classes, so it’s not just people going to college, it’s also people who might be wanting to do other things. We need a richness of curriculum if we’re going to appeal to all our students across the spectrum, because there’s so many different paths forward for them. We can only do that if we have the space for it, if we have the right type of space, and if we have the resources for it, and that’s why I’m going to fight so hard to try to get are the resources that we need to continue to provide the richness of curriculum that all our students deserve from across a wide spectrum that makes up our district.

Question: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the town council, and how do you think they should work together to plan effectively for the future of Princeton?

Susan Kanter:  I would say from the outside, having not been on the school board or the town council, from the outside looking in I think that they need to in the future develop a closer relationship, and one that sees, that we all see that they’re working together to both plan school-related things in the town and not school. When the  town does something that affects the schools, we have to be working together and not acting like one doesn’t affect the other. So one, working in that collaborative manner, is one reason I chose to run for the school board, because I don’t think we can make these planning decisions about our town or our schools without working with each other, so that to me is one of the most important issues and a great question.

Dafna Kendal:  I agree with Miss Kanter. I think the school board and the town council need to work closely together. It’s one taxpayer, and so even though we’re two separate entities, we’re all working in the best interest of the taxpayer I think one thing that could be improved is communication. I think like everything else. that’s something that can be worked on. One thing that I would definitely push for on a next term on the board would be for the school board to be included in conversations when the voluntary payment agreement with Princeton University is renewed. That hasn’t happened in the past. The town received roughly three million dollars a year in voluntary payments, and the school district doesn’t get any of that, and I feel that our schools are very valuable. I feel that they attract people to Princeton University, and I feel the school board should have a seat at the table. 

Gregory Stankiewicz:  I agree that the town and the schools need  to work better together and over the nine months that I’ve been part of the leadership of the school board, we’ve been meeting on a quarterly basis with with the town. I also serve as the representative to the planning board and serve as the liaison for that, because planning has to go together and we can’t plan in a vacuum. I found that the council and council members and the mayor have been very receptive to us working together, and I look forward to working together further with them. I have to point out and I was really pleased to see that many members came when we were discussing the hiring of a planner and talked about the importance of that from their perspective, as well as ours, and I see that as a very good sign going forward, and I’m really hoping that we’ll continue to work even closer together going forward because this is the future of our community and we need to be together at the table.

Debbie Bronfeld: I agree we do need to be together at the table. One area for me is the current referendum. We were supposed to create some parking spaces on Franklin Street, which I would rather not pave more over. I’d love to eliminate that and meet with the town and come work together to designate more staff parking on neighborhood streets, but that’s something the school board can’t do alone but it’s something that’s great to share.  I’d like to explore more composting with them or recycling. Maybe we can share equipment or obtain maintenance contracts for facilities and plumbing and electric. We should have our business administrators meet together and look at cleaning supplies, food supplies, office supplies. There’s so much we can do and again it is one bucket, which is very frustrating and people kind of point at each of each group and everything, but we also need to both be able to talk, and we can’t say that this is your bucket and this is our bucket. It needs to be much more open, and needs to not have a hidden agenda when people meet, and I think that’s something that I would you know push on, but I think it’d be great if we could do a lot more together.

Gregory Stankiewicz:  Just to follow up is an example of the type of relationship that we’re building, the town and the school board together hired a consultant to look at shared services and that’s an opportunity to look for savings, but even if they’re not savings,  and I think there will be, but even there’s not it’s a way to have more effective services for all of us and that’s the type of thinking that we need going forward and I applaud the board for supporting that and moving that forward as well as the town.

Susan Kanter:  I agree in terms of the shared services. I like to think it could only help the town and the schools and it’s great that Greg mentioned that they’re meeting quarterly, but I might — not that you want to create more work —  but I think the two should meet more often. I don’t think that you’re really going achieve enough progress with just quarterly meeting. Monthly I think seem like a more way that would ensure that the two sides are really talking to each other,  so sorry if I’m creating more work.

Dafna Kendal: We don’t need any more meetings, but I think it would be very beneficial to the town if the council and the school board met publicly — the full council, the full school board publicly quarterly. That would give a chance for taxpayers to ask questions and get answers from all the decision makers.

Debbie Bronfeld:  I didn’t vote for the planner because first of all O  felt like I wasn’t sure how it was really affecting our students and I think to make this move forward you know really should be one of the superintendent’s goals of meeting and maybe the mayor’s goal of meeting together I wasn’t sure why we needed a planner and I was frustrated that we just hired another you know consultant to come in and do that,  but I feel like there’s lists that people can come up with of things that would just be great to share. We’re right across the street we share the streets the sidewalks.

Question: Given that there is increasing merger pressure from the state legislature on school districts that don’t have a high school, should the Princeton School District consider new boundaries that would expand the Princeton School District toward Route 1 while considering a Cranbury merger with Plainsboro-West Windsor. Do you think that such an idea might have merit?

Dafna Kendal: My family and I moved here in 2011 to attend the schools we were in South Brunswick before then, and my son’s Elementary School had 600 kids. One of the things I really liked about Princeton was the smaller size. It’s like a big small school. I would not support merging or moving the boundary lines. We have a lot of kids that we need to help within our district, and I think that’s what we need to focus on.

Gregory Stankiewicz: There’s been a lot of talk about consolidation of school districts. I agree with New Jersey School Boards Association and many other statewide organizations that involuntary mergers would not be effective and would create the type of sort of resistance among our communities that aren’t helpful. But a third of all districts across the state right now are in voluntary sort of collaborations and those are send/receive agreements, so one out of every three districts are in such a relationship including Princeton. We have that relationship with Branbury. Last year we extended that, and the reason we did that was that it brings in benefits to Princeton as well as to Cranbury, and it does exactly what people are talking about in terms of consolidation but it’s done on a voluntary basis and I’m a big supporter of arrangements like that that allow both districts to receive benefits.

Debbie Bronfled: I’d have to say no. Space-wise our town is small, and that’s where we struggle in terms of when we think about can we build here can you build there, so for me no. At the point we have. One of the reasons I loved about moving to Princeton is all the houses, all the streets already filled with houses and I thought oh great they’re not going to be adding lots and lots of homes increasing the population. I think for smaller communities you can’t do that.  I think some of the rural communities you know I know they do a lot of that — then you’re busting kids a lot more too, because if we move out further obviously we’re going to have more traffic, we’re going have more cars we have more busing, so it doesn’t seem to fit with how Princeton has their schools I think it’s harder when we come up with ideas of a later start time and you have kids who have to travel further or they’re doing sports and they have to travel further to get home so at this point I don’t see that as a great move for Princeton. 

Susan Kanter: I don’t think economies of scale always work for students. We’re having an issue with knowing all of our students as it currently is and they’re growing, and I think to make the district too large, that even becomes a bigger problem, so I don’t think that is the answer to Princeton’s problems. Always looking at what can be done with cranberry and the send/receive agreement — there’s nothing wrong with exploring options in that area that could help benefit both districts, but I would need to see a lot of work done to see how that would work, to see if that’s a viable option for us, but in terms of West Windsor or neighboring districts, I would be against even looking at that.

Question: What is your position on revisiting the Cranbury sending/receiving district decision. Would you consider revisiting the relationship? 

Gregory Stankiewicz:  I was on the board when we extended the agreement. The agreement means that we get over five million dollars a year of revenue into our operating budget. If we lost that,  it would be devastating to the quality of our curriculum. There’s a reason why we do a send/receive agreement, and the reason is that it benefits both sides. We extended the agreement, and as part of the extension we agreed that we’d be moving forward. We have a 30-year history of doing that, and I would be against revisiting it if under their current circumstances, where it is are, depending on the year, second or third largest source of revenue outside the property tax cap, and so it would be absolutely devastating from a fiscal standpoint for us to do that. A committee of citizens took a look at the data and came to the same conclusion. 

Debbie Bronfeld:  I would definitely revisit it, and in revisiting — so they pay what the state says they’re going to pay, and they do pay that. And in revisiting it,  I would make sure that everybody really understands the special education costs that were not paid for a couple years. I thank Dafna for bringing that up, because that is money that we are now going to get into our operating costs. The other thing is, it’s very hard for people when we when they hear oh your high schools you know overcrowded but you have this other school coming in and they’re not paying one penny towards any referendum. Legally they do not have to pay one penny towards the referendum, however their taxes went recently.  I don’t know what percent, but their taxes went down recently. It was in the paper. It would be really nice if they would come to the table and give us some money for a referendum if that’s the way we go, or even for the referendum we currently have that is adding to the high school. So for me I’d be very happy to revisit it. 

Susan Kanter: The word revisiting a little troubling there because we’re talking about students that have been in our school for 30 years but I am never against let’s say re-examining how the agreement works so I think we have to be very careful when we’re using words and we’re talking about kids, and so re-examining how that agreement works financially is always in a good interest, making sure or the standard payments are made, and looking at it to see what we could do to come up with what’s best for both of our districts. I’m never against relooking. We should never just say the status quo is the status quo, but revisiting our kids — Cranbury  kid should never feel they’re not a part of our school because they’re a very important part of our school.

Dafna Kendal:  Just like the charter kids are our kids, the Cranbury kids are our kids. I believe the send/receive agreement is a net positive Princeton and to look to terminate the agreement would be a long and costly process and ultimately bad for the Cranbury students. I’m more focused on having Cranbury abide by the terms of the contract, for example, I raised concerns last year when the send/receive agreement was being renewed about special education costs that Cranbury was paying, and I found out that unilaterally the business administrator had reduced the amount Cranbury was paying from $180,000 to $80,000  without board approval. And so given that I have a special education background, I understood that the $80,000 Cranbury was paying for the 48 students with IEPs was very low, and so finally this spring a board member took up the case and it was found that Cranbury underpaid the district by $166,000 last year.

Debbie Bronfeld: I want to clarify that I have nothing against any students or anything. To me it would be a matter of goodwill if that town gave us money. It has nothing to do with individual people. To me it’s more an issue of, their taxes going down and then they push on us to make our schools bigger, and it would be nice to share — sharing of resources, sharing of funds, sharing of ideas. So for me it’s really sharing  to see how we can work together.

Gregory Stankiewicz: I just wanted to correct a couple of misperceptions.  I think and it’s really important for everyone to focus on the real truth. Number one on the special ed agreement with Cranbury. that was a provision that we put in that we didn’t measure in one year. and we’ve revisited that,  and thanks to the board focusing on that, no one knew it was a net positive or a net negative to any side, but we had a different way under law of calculating it before. We’ve switched to it now, and so going forward we’ll have the data. Second, Cranbury does pay a portion of the debt burden by law It’s a required to and it does.

Dafna Kendal: Everything I say is truthful. I’ve always been honest and I’ll continue to be. Cranbury didn’t pay the correct amount for two years, and it was the terms of the contract. — it’s actually the law that special education students needed to be calculated separately, and the district wasn’t doing it and the administration wasn’t doing it because it was too much work and that’s not acceptable, especially when we’re laying off teachers.

Question: Do you have any proposals to deal with the state’s annual 2% cap on increases in school budgets? 

Debbie Bronfeld: I don’t feel like we need to make any cuts based on the different numbers. I think we need to work smarter with the funds we , like reducing our utility costs for electric, by turning lights off and upgrading light bulbs, for water by fixing leaky bathroom sinks and toilets, for gas by monitoring classroom temperatures and by fixing all drafts and our windows and doors. We should  only be replacing textbooks when they wear out and we should reduce substitutes at the high school except where they’re necessary. We need to reimagine our transportation , and take advantage of more online resources for professional development to reduce our travel costs. We need to approve all field trips based on their total cost to the district, and reduce our healthcare costs by increasing enrollment in  health savings plans. We need to add teaching responsibilities to supervisors to fluctuate with course demands, and as staff members retires ,maybe we should be teaching certain classes in an auditorium setting that’s more of a larger class. We need to evaluate all our overtime and stipend payments. 

Susan Kanter: Being new to the board, I’m not sure how much all of those things proposed would affect the budget, but I’m certainly in favor of looking at all those things, however I’m kind of glad the board is hopefully changing the way they put together their budget this year, taking a longer term starting point. They’re going to zero based budgeting, and not just taking last year’s budget and bring it up and down but starting with each line at zero, and I’m very excited to see what those savings could be if that comes up without affecting our students, and I think hopefully that can lead to some savings and also to have the larger portion of the board be involved in the budget. When you start earlier, you can work on the budget longer, so I think those kinds of things could bring some savings, and then long term things like putting in solar that maybe could change our energy costs, and explore things that could work on our monthly operational costs.

Dafna Kendal: The 2% cap — I’m in favor of it. It’s a very popular measure in New Jersey, and I believe the school board has a $100 million budget, and I believe we need to find a way to more efficiently use taxpayer dollars. Another thing that we need to do is increase the revenue. So last year I was successful in negotiating voluntary payments from the Institute for Advanced Study, and an additional voluntary payment from the Princeton Theological Seminary, and another institution. We need to continue to do that. We cannot continue to look to the taxpayer as a blank check. It’s just not going to be sustainable. I moved here in 2011 and my taxes have gone up 40% since we moved here. That’s just not sustainable.

Gregory Stankiewicz:  I’m very much in favor of taking a look at the 2% cap. The 2% cap was instituted by Governor Christie, who brought it down from 4% with a lot more exemptions and ways of of helping districts. So what we’re doing across the state is squeezing our districts year after year, even in places like in Princeton, where there’s a lot of growth in terms of the wealth of the community. It can’t be accessed by our students in our schools. We are starving ourselves. What does it mean to try to look at the 2% cap? It just means that we allow ourselves a little bit more flexibility. It can be done in terms of having the population itself vote, but why should you as families of students be forced to see cuts after cuts year after year —  for example, one example if we do open a new school, there used to be an exemption to the 2% cap to staff the school up that no longer exists. We don’t have the flexibility and we need that because it would still be up to the taxpayers. We would give them a way of helping deal with really difficult fiscal situations.

 Kendal: The 2% cap is the subject. There are two exceptions. There’s an exception for rising enrollment and there’s an exception for health care costs, and the district avails themselves of those exemptions when they exist,  and I support that, but we had a situation this year where eight supervisors — eight of the 29 supervisors — turned over. That was a time for the school board to look and say let’s consolidate some of the positions. The science supervisor left and the math supervisor left. Maybe we could have had a STEAM  position. 

Gregory Stankiewicz: We’re in a budget shortfall of such a magnitude that we can’t cut our way out of it. We’ll do everything possible to be more efficient, and this board is committed to that, and you’ve heard this tonight, but we cannot cut our way out of it. Our services are already suffering, and I want to make sure that we have as many options as possible. There is a waiver for an increase in students, but it’s not given every year and it doesn’t impact a wealthy community like Princeton, which is mostly where the money comes from, the local property tax levy. We need to be able to grow with the growth of the community. We can’t right now.

Debbie Bronfeld: I disagree that we have to balance our budget based on laying off employees. We weren’t given a lot of options when the budget came through, and I didn’t vote yes on the budget because I was so frustrated that we weren’t given options. I feel there are so many things out there  — and we have so many smart people in our town who can come up and give us ideas — teachers and students, but we have to do that. I was pushing and pushing for us to even start looking at the budget for next year last May, which we slowly have, but people need to make hard decisions and I feel I can do that.

Susan Kanter: I feel it’s one of the reasons why I support planning for the future referendum,  because this work that we’re talking about on the budget is going to be highly time-consuming if you do it the correct way,  if you go to zero budgeting, if you look creatively on how can we do things differently. I think right now that’s the bandwidth that the board needs to be focused on so we don’t have to make teacher cuts if we don’t have to in the future.

Question: In order to balance this year’s budget, the district eliminated ten instructional assistants and ten teachers, however because the individualized educational plans of some students required it, the board recently approved the superintendent’s recommendation to hire two instructional assistants and a part-time special education teacher. The position of district technology assistant was also approved. Presumably these unanticipated expenses caused a shortfall. The bottom line is they eliminated a position then somebody said nope, you got to hire these people back, so they did, and now do we have a shortfall?  Do you see a need to re-examine how the budget is created in the first place and if so what would you recommend?

Susan Kanter:  As I stated in the last question, starting the budget early, going to zero based budgeting,  I mean obviously some of this is based on projections on the number of students and you never know what our student population will look like, but to plan a sustainable budget so that each year you’re not reacting so closely to specific needs, but you’re creating a budget that you think can be sustainable, moving forward I think this should be our focused objective. And obviously living up to all things that the law of New Jersey provides we do for all our students is not something that should be cut. How personnel decisions are made, not having been on the board,  it’s a little harder for me to speak to that, but to try to keep cuts away from our students as much as possible is obviously the goal that we would all set here.

Dafna Kendal:  I agree with what Miss Kanter said. The school board budget is very opaque. I remember my first year on the school board, we would get the budget in October and they would tell us what the bad news was and what we had to cut and what we couldn’t fill and at each school — at the elementary schools I think they have a  $125,000 or $150,000 fund and I asked the business administrator I said what is that for, and she said well not to be flippant but that’s for crayons and pencils. I live here. I pay taxes and I’d like to know what that money is for. Tere’s a similar fund that JW has and it gets bigger. So let’s say JW has $300,000 and then at the high school is at $600,000. Well we need transparency. The board needs transparency and I think that we have a new business administrator and I think  things have started to change, but I think the board has to be very careful with its oversight and really dig and support transparency.

Gregory Stankiewicz: I’m going to agree with my colleague Miss Kanter about the changes that are already in place in terms of the budgeting process and the changes we need going forward. Going to more of a priority based budgeting it sounds like a process question but it’s I think it’s really important to focus on it,  but again I come back to the same thing. We know right now that we’re facing a budget shortfall for next year. We need to work ,as everyone here said, earlier, but we won’t know the parameters until very close to the end of the year I worked at the State Office of Management and Budget so I know how the state is very late in terms of sending out the data to local districts. It’s a scramble every year, but using a priority based budgeting process, working through the finance committee, having much more openness in terms of the data and starting it sooner will allow us to at least weigh out in a with more data the types of decisions that need to be made, and we need to get more money from the state, because we cannot cut our way out of the situation we’re in right now.

Debbie Bronfeld –  So for me I see it much more concretely.  I think the board and administration need to understand all the costs associated with salaries, health care, and school expenses. We need to have supervisors, principals and administrators held accountable for their budgets and they need to review all their overtime. I had mentioned before I support creating some community task force that would  look at improvements for Princeton Public Schools, and I feel that we need a lot more transparency, but we also need to be able to say no to things. Last year I was looking at the numbers in the travel budget. They had been over budgeted a couple years and I asked what are the actuals and they were like you know almost 20 to 30 thousand dollars lower and I’m like well then why don’t we just lower the budget. So we have to look at these things,  and we need a strong leadership to say no — to say I’m not going to increase travel, and we can say that. Why can’t people just you know do professional development locally, but we have to have people who say they’re going to do it, and who will look at the detail. 

Gregory Stankiewicz:  With the budget, I just wanted to point out that the amount in each school hasn’t increased. I don’t know how many years it’s been flat-funded. For all the years I’ve been on the board, the budget and then earlier than that. We are cutting every year the amount of money the teachers have to teach our students. This is an unsustainable situation if we want the tradition of good quality public education, we need to think very hard and long about every possibility to in order to fill  this need.

Deb Bronfeld: I don’t want to cut anything from students. I want to have fabulous teachers. counselors. guidance counselors, and principals. I want our students to have everything so they can have great experiences in our schools, but we have to look at the details.There’s so much behind those numbers that’s ridiculous, and we and we have to say no, we can’t do these things, and we have to understand when we have substitutes come in, we have to understand what’s behind all the numbers and so I’m not ready to just say yes let’s go raise it two percent. I want to really look at those numbers and dig down early. 

Dafna Kendal: I also think there’s a lot of waste that could be trimmed and I think again we need strong board leadership to agree that we need to really look into these things. and the most important thing is our teachers, our staff, and so that’s the last thing that we should touch. and we should work backwards from there. 

Susan Kanter: I just also want to make sure that we don’t get away from the word collaboration —  that we’re working with our principals and we’re really listening to them, to what they need in their schools. That it’s not necessarily the board’s focus on what should be cut, but that we’re creating a budget but we have to give them the flexibility to be able to know where some of their resources are needed to best serve the students in our school and not forget about the students.

Question: There are stories that the Board of Education is talking to Rider University about buying the Westminster Choir College property. If this ever comes to a vote, how would you vote to buy or not to buy?

Dafna Kendal: We looked at Westminster. The board looked in Westminster in late 2016 and early 2017. We put a bid in for $40  million. I was very glad that our bid was rejected. I don’t want to be a part of destroying a world-renowned music institution. What I do support is, if it ever comes to pass, is buying some of the land that is adjacent to John Witherspoon and to Princeton High School. Additionally,  Westminster has a foundation and they’ve engaged a very aggressive attorney and so any attempt to buy Westminster would again mire the district in years of litigation and again spending money that could be better spent on students. 

Gregory Stankiewicz: I don’t think you know I’d want to say anything in advance of whatever the situation is, because it’s a fluid situation. I’ve heard and read the reports and I think the rest of the board has as well. I’d like to focus instead on the importance of planning as a community and planning various options, because we have a lot of different. creative out-of-the-box ways of thinking about how we can create more space, and that includes state laws that were just passed that allow for public-private partnerships that would actually save money, that would allow for interlocal agreements. There’s so many different things, and none of us know all the different things and none of you, but all of us together working with professionals, we can look at various options in various creative ways to solve our problems and that would include,  I would say, any option that might be available at that time. We just don’t know right now. 

Debbie Bromfield – I agree 100% with miss Kendal.  I would love to get a portion of that’s between JW and  PHS for some parking and a field, but no more. I agree it’s a beautiful school and you read the letters of people who went there in the alumni and they’re just — their hearts are  breaking, and again they have been in litigation three years now and it’s not going anywhere, and it’s just not where we should be, and we would never be making it a music school, so for me it would be just to get a little corner so we could have more parking and another field or two, but it’s not on my radar at all.

Susan Kanter: Having not been on the board,  I don’t know some of the private conversations that have been had, but I think this is a great time to circle back to when the town and the school work together, and in terms of districting and planning and coming up with what’s the best way to meet the needs of what the district is going to have in terms of enrollment, while fitting into what the town sees and where the growth in  the town is going to be. So I don’t want to hold myself to Westminster not Westminster. It’s more how does this puzzle fit together in terms of a long-term plan?

Gregory Stankiewicz: I totally agree and I also think again bringing in the  help of a professional to think through the wide variety of options is responding to what we heard from the community, which is think outside the box,  think creatively, think about ways that will save us money but meet the needs of our students who are going to school in a 90-year-old high school and 50-year-old elementary schools. We need to think and that might not include construction. It might also include redistricting and a number of other options. 

Closing Statements

Greg Stankiewicz : I want to thank the League of Women Voters and thank everyone here today tonight. It was a very good, robust discussion. As you can tell, there are a lot of things that we as a community are facing. What I really liked was something I heard recently. The district is going to be going into a worker management collaborative. We’re one of 35 districts across New Jersey that have been accepted into a Rutgers University initiative that has the district working with the teacher associations and unions and working with the board and thinking about how to think through things collaboratively working together, because all of us, no matter how we feel about individual issues, care about what’s most important for our students, and the research shows that when you do that, you get better student achievement, better teacher retention, you get a better community. This is a great community. I want to continue to working together, r all of us, on these problems and issues.

Dafna Kendal: During my prior term on the board, I worked effectively and collaboratively with all stakeholders — parents, teachers, administrators and taxpayers–  to make decisions that were in the best interest of our students and community. I have demonstrated the ability to listen to concerns from all members of our community, and have been able to bring people together to find common ground to make changes. These skills were evident as I was instrumental in the adoption of the later start time at the high school. I led successful negotiations of all three labor union contracts through June of 2020, and I made a compelling, successful case to nonprofit institutions to voluntarily contribute to our district. I have demonstrated that I have the ability and the temperament to be an effective school board member and I ask for your vote on November 5th.

Susan Kanter: I too would like to thank the League of Women Voters for inviting us here tonight. Through my work and the PTA, I found the most impactful solutions are achieved when both the community and the stakeholder input are solicited early in the process and carefully considered. Tonight we also talked a lot about dollars and cents and not as much maybe as we would want about the students,  and I want to make sure we always keep an eye on the joy and the achievement and the wellness and the connection of our students as we look at the hard problems that this community faces, and that we do it in a way that is modeled for the students and that they can see how we are working together for them, and I think we should just always keep that in mind as we work through these problems.Deborah Bronfeld: I am running again not only because there’s a lot of work to be done for our students, teachers, parents and community,  but also because I want to be at the table making the hard decisions to ensure our students continue to receive a meaningful and unrestricted public education. We need to collect all funds that are due to our district, and I want to be there. I’ve the skill sets needed to support and improve our schools. My work experience in corporate America concentrating in finance and logistics and my business education have given me the tools to ensure we work cost effectively and sustainably. My work in many nonprofit organizations over the years and my past three years of school board experience have given me the skills I need to continue supporting all our students in each of their unique needs. Combined I have the skill sets needed to continue not only supporting and improving our schools but to ensure we do it cost effectively if possible for the whole community.  I will speak my mind, especially to support public education for all students. I want to thank everyone for coming out tonight to hear what I will bring to the board over the next three years.

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.

3 Comments

  1. I don’t understand how any voters still want to even listen to Stankiewicz after kowning what the BoE has done in the past two or three years: Renewing the Cranbury for 10 years knowing our own enrollment is up; pushing for the ill-planned referdum; cutting teachers; pushing for rmoving the 2% cap (increasing property tax); and not even admitting Cranbury for not paying their fair share…….

  2. Look at the 2% cap???!!! Stankiwicz has NO sense of how the irresponsible behavior of the Board is harming this community. He finds it easy to spend other people’s money without any firm plans, cost controls or sense of the impact the steady increase in taxes have on the diversity of this community and should be voted off the Board.

  3. Could someone fact check Greg Stankiewicz’s statement that “Cranbury does pay a portion of the debt burden by law It’s a required to and it does.” It has been stated in the past that a sending district can only pay its share of the interest on the debt, and not the principal, since the building belongs solely to the receiving district. Paying only its share of interest means that Princeton taxpayers are subsidizing the education of Cranbury students. Stankiewicz’s statement may be true, but may be misleading.

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