An open letter to the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education

To the Board of Education:

I am writing about the recently released board of education emails due to the OPRA request by Planet Princeton. While I am offended by some of the emails by current board members and administrators, I am extremely concerned with the lack of respect and transparency towards some board members. The attempts to prevent board members from having access to board information are unethical and undermine the trust voters have in the Princeton Board of Education.

Board leadership has tried to restrict some board members from sending emails to administrators, and administrators have been instructed by board leadership to not respond to emails written by myself and others. This is unacceptable. When information is hidden from board members, or when the superintendent questions what can be shared with certain board members, we are not being given the respect our elected positions deserve.

It is insulting that when I asked about mold abatement funding from the summer of 2018, the superintendent asked the business administrator “What would be safe to share with Debbie?” (9.16.19) The superintendent reports to the board. When I or any other board member asks for information, it should not be vetted by him or our administrators. All board members deserve an honest, complete and timely response.

After reviewing all 4,000-plus pages of records released from the OPRA request, I am deeply concerned about the board president and other board members unilaterally deciding to spend so much school district funds for attorneys to proceed against a particular board member. That spend should have had a full board vote.

The emails also show an attempt to intimidate members of the board. An example is when School Board President Beth Behrend forwarded Dan Dart’s (9.13.19) email separately to each board member, however only on emails to myself and school board member Bill Hare were Superintendent Cochrane and the board attorney copied (9.16.19). Why is this? Is it because I am part of what they consider a “faction” (email 9.17.19)? Was the inclusion of the lawyer to intimidate me?

Most shocking of all is that the emails show that the board leadership and certain board members did not separate board duties and politics. They were actively discussing and perhaps trying to influence the recent board elections (9.17.19). The new business administrator, less than two months on the job, stated: “I do not want to present anything until after the election” and “I do not want any of my information politicized” (10.17.19). Manipulating board business because of an upcoming election is shameful, and perhaps illegal. I am not placing the blame on the business administrator or other district staff. If the board leadership directs staff to hide information because of an election, that is shameful and perhaps illegal. 

We are heading down a path toward restricted communications between board members and the community, decreased transparency, and conducting ourselves in ways that are not in keeping with our code of ethics. We must think carefully about how we proceed to preserve the integrity and reputation of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education.

Sincerely,

Debbie Bronfeld

Ms. Bronfeld is a member of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education. The voters of Princeton reelected her to another three-year term on the board in November.

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15 Responses

  • Some school board members should step down and some other people should resign. Integrity and credibility are gone. It is looking more and more as these people are following the Trump playbook.

  • I cannot believe the board members are being restricted with information. You are all elected by voters with equal right to serve the district. What can voters do to fix this?

    • My “Bravo!’ is for Deb Bronfeld’s terrific response to the intimidation inherent in the BoE’s communications policy. A few points on recall, which is essentially impeachment: recall requires 700-800+ signatures and a special election, which the County Clerk’s office says would be in September (not the June Primary), a long time to bog everyone down in wrangling — compare the national debate. Any election before that would have to be paid for ($20K+?), maybe by the plaintiffs, so public support would need to be huge. Get everyone you can to the 9am Jan 25th BoE event, PHS cafeteria. Numbers are what matters.

      • I really hope the idea isn’t to try to get people to the 25 January meeting as a means of showing support for a recall? That meeting has a specific constructive purpose aimed at bringing community members together to better understand the various factors affecting PPS in the context of our community now and in the future, and allow us to discuss findings and give input on how they might be addressed. Please be respectful enough to allow that to take place by finding a different forum for discussing BOE internal and external dynamics and proposed “solutions.” Thanks.

        • To the contrary. Recall is expensive, complicated and time-consuming. The attacks on Deb and Dan are poorly conceived and hurtful, not only to them but to the BoE itself, which has put such emphasis on communication and community input. Nevertheless, the more voters show up on the 25th, the clearer will be the level of concern. Presumably the entire purpose of the meeting is to open discussion of the future of our schools. If voters want to participate in these decisions, the time to show up is now.

        • I might have agreed with the above comments had I not seen the board statement that was just released.

          Those who are willing to give the board the benefit of the doubt should ask themselves this question; if laws and ethics didn’t stop the board majority from using taxpayer dollars to silence dissent, what is going to stop them from using taxpayer dollars to hire “experts” to promote their own agendas?

          • Some of us work full-time and/or have young kids and/or are single parents and it’s difficult to get to committee meetings and the Tuesday night full-Board meetings. This coming Saturday is at a time when many who want to be part of the process can attend.

            It definitely does appear that the BOE has some personal/political dynamics that would be really beneficial to PPS and to the community to iron out. I don’t go from there to concluding that some fix is in, but if others are, there are plenty of avenues through which to raise ethical and legal concerns: County and State BOE; NJSBA; DOE.

            The current leadership is up for re-election this November. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of this is part of a longer game of unseating them since at this point based on recent voting they seem to have a 2/3 majority and with budget process coming up soon that’s not likely to change — although would be great if Dan and Debbie are working on some internal coalition building.

            So what I’m asking is that if a segment of the community believes strongly that there has been a breach of ethics and laws, that they work on addressing it in parallel to this Saturday’s and subsequent community meetings that are part of the larger strategic planning process. Thanks!

            • It’s remarkable how this parallels the events in Washington. There’s a majority on the BoE that wants to act as if it’s business as usual, and will deny that anything wrong has happened.

              Meanwhile, a minority tries to bring the evidence to light and convince the majority to act legally.

              If the district’s “kindness” agenda means anything, the BoE should be engaging with all its members to find common ground instead of using lawyers to bully them.

  • That would be great maybe their be able to negotiate better contracts for the district schools for services and we can get a tax break. Go Trump

  • How do we, as Princeton taxpayers, recall BoE members. I can think of a few, especially those in the leadership team, that need to be recalled.

    • When PPS BOE started the 180 mil referendum insanity, they assumed the people of Princeton were going to be ok with it. Because of the outrage, they went down to 150, 130 and finally 27 millions, making one wonder what were the actual urgencies they had. Currently, they are counting on Princetonians be quiet and accept the gag orders and stuff, because in this « very tolerant » town, the people in charge really snub all those who disent. One has to wonder if they are that important to you that you rather accept irregularities or if you are going to step up and let them know that they are not living up to the expectations of integrity and credibility we hold for BOE members. Introspection is needed.

  • This is so irrespectfull!!! You were elected by people from this town to serve as board members with equal rights to know what is happening.

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