Adam Bierman, a lifelong Princeton resident who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Princeton Council in 2019 as an independent candidate, has announced that he is running for a seat on the local school board in the November election. School board elections are non-partisan.
Bierman is a teacher for the New Jersey Division of Children and Families working with at-risk students in Trenton, and his mother was a teacher in the then Princeton Regional Schools for more than 35 years. His father served on the school board in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“I believe that my background and experience can help prioritize spending on that which is most important for our students and community. Our schools are incredibly important to our children, their families, and the overall community,” Bierman said, adding that he wants to keep Princeton affordable for all residents and supports the existing two-percent annual state cap on tax levy increases.
“New Jersey has the highest property taxes of any state in the country and the schools are responsible for 48 percent of the tax bill,” Bierman said. “While the schools have incredible financial resources available to them, I believe the school board must learn to live within its means and reprioritize in order to stop wasteful spending.”
Bierman cited the school board’s recent approval of $530,000 for a bathroom and a concession stand at Princeton High School and the purchase of almost $3 million in Apple MacBooks and other computers as wasteful district spending. “I believe the school district should reorganize its tactics and instead provide computers to economically disadvantaged families, rather than students who already have a computer,” he said.
“It is my opinion that in the past too many members of the board have blindly supported the superintendent and his administration without asking all the tough questions or exploring every option,” Bierman said. “As a board member and an independent thinker, I promise to scrutinize closely all spending requests and to leave no path undiscovered.”
Bierman also criticized the school board for adopting a 2019-20 budget last year that reduced staff by 3 percent while raising taxes by the maximum allowed under law. He said according to the New Jersey Department of Education, the Princeton Public Schools has the third-highest spending per student of the 97 school districts in its peer group in the state. He said the board should have found other areas to cut from the budget instead of eliminating classroom positions.
Bierman said the school district budget for 2020-21 that was adopted on May 5 included an increase in the local tax levy of about $1.37 million. “After the budget was adopted, board members learned later in the month about an estimated $1 million in cost savings for the school year due to remote learning,” Bierman said. “This is unacceptable. There was no reason to raise taxes with a $1 million in COVID-19 related savings due to the shutdown of schools and remote learning.”
Bierman said cost-saving projections should have been done before the budget was adopted so the board could weigh the option of giving residents tax relief because of the economic hardship created by the pandemic. “The governing body for the municipality did not increase taxes for the budget this year because of the pandemic,” he said. “The board of education could have eliminated the tax increase with the million dollars in savings, due to remote learning.”
He also said the district spends about 40 percent of the budget on non-classroom expenses like administration, support services, and transportation. “We need to drive more money into the classroom,” he said. “Reductions in staff should be in administration and support services, not teachers.”
He also said the district needs to use existing facilities more efficiently before spending money on more new facilities. “We need to take better care of the buildings we have,” he said. “I also favor cost-effective and affordable solutions for projected enrollment growth such as adding a classroom into existing schools.”
Bierman said he opposes purchasing Westminster Choir College for the school district. “The costs to acquire and renovate these properties are prohibitive and would place an enormous burden on our schools and community for decades to come,” he said. “The Princeton Public Schools owns two large parcels of land that total over 30 acres at Johnson Park. The administrative building at Valley Road is underutilized and dilapidated. The school board has the potential to develop Valley Road, without the need for taxpayer funds through a private-public partnership. The two large parcels of land at Johnson Park also provide many possibilities for future use without the need to acquire more land and old buildings at Westminster with new tax dollars.”
Bierman said when two previously issued bonds mature in the next few years, the school board should lower taxes instead of borrowing more money.
He also criticized the board’s sending and receiving agreement with Cranbury. The Princeton Public Schools district receives tuition payments for about 275 students from there to attend Princeton High School.
“Cranbury announced a reduction in their municipal tax rate by over 20 percent and their school tax rate by 10 percent for the 2019-2020 fiscal year,” Bierman said. “Princeton taxpayers should not be subsidizing Cranbury students. Cranbury needs to pay its fair share. They can make additional, voluntary contributions to the schools directly or through the Princeton Educational Foundation. I will not support an expansion of Princeton High School for out-of-district students like Cranbury if we need the space for our own students. A sending and receiving agreement only makes sense if the receiving district has underutilized or empty classrooms. If the demographers think that enrollment growth will occur in the high school, we need to take steps now, such as a feasibility study to end the Cranbury sending and receiving agreement.”