Princeton School Board Candidate Profile: Beth Behrend

Beth Behrend

Education: I am a product of public schools, originally from Hartland, Wisconsin. I hold a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a J.D. and LLM degrees from the University of Michigan Law School. While I am President of the Board of Education, I am responding here as a private citizen and am not representing the board in any way.

Why are you the right candidate for the school board? I have a proven track record of bringing positive change for our students and am ready to tackle the challenges ahead without a learning curve. I bring professional skills in law, finance and governance; years of community service; deep PPS knowledge as a parent and volunteer; board experience; and strong professional relationships across the District, the community and around the State. In the two years I’ve been Board President, we have: Stabilized District finances, balancing the budget with $500,000 in cost savings and recently announcing a $2.9 million surplus to cushion against at least $1.4 million in Covid-related expenses and uncertain future State funding; Taken concrete steps toward equity by initiating free Pre-K, adopting a restorative justice approach to discipline and reducing suspensions by 70% in one year, and approving a revenue-neutral, strategic device initiative that provides all students equal access to technology through district-owned computers (with broadband connectivity thanks to an anonymous donor); Improved building maintenance, cleanliness and sustainability by hiring an experienced new facilities director; and Successfully implemented taxpayer-approved referendum projects, updating school facilities with HVAC and health and safety improvements.

What are the top three challenges the board must urgently address? We must continue making progress towards more equity and inclusion, meeting the needs of all students. We can do this by: Evaluating and ensuring accountability for initiatives already underway — and supporting and including our most vulnerable students from Pre-K onward; Updating and expanding facilities to creatively and cost-effectively accommodate enrollment increases, which are expected to increase by 10% over the next 5-7 years; and Ensuring we have adequate funds to support excellence for all students in our schools, through continued cost savings, effective spending and advocacy at the County and State level for new sources of revenue/savings.

Please name the top three qualities the next superintendent of schools should possess to lead the district. How would you evaluate the relationship between the board and the retired superintendent? From a governance perspective, how do you think you want to improve the board-superintendent relationship? We need a permanent superintendent who: Shares our community’s values around equity and inclusion, with a proven track record; Develops and inspires organizational excellence, building teamwork and trust among staff, administrators, board and the community; and Brings experience and 21st century thinking to curriculum development and enrichment opportunities to meet the diverse needs of our students, preparing them for the future. As a Board member, by law I am not permitted to speak about specific personnel matters. I will note, however, that I have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with both our current and our past superintendents. Well-governed boards are continually learning and developing, together with senior staff, in order to be a more effective leadership team. NJ law is clear that the superintendent administers the schools, while the board oversees and ensures that they are well-run. State law requires board members to support staff in the proper performance of their duties. The Board’s most important job is to hire an experienced educational professional to administer the District, guided by clear and measurable annual goals that reflect the community’s values for education. I would welcome further professional development for our Board to help us attract and retain a top-caliber superintendent.

Do you support continuing the sending/receiving agreement with Cranbury? Why or why not? What are the criteria under which you would reevaluate the viability of that agreement? If the agreement proves to be economically unfair for the Princeton residents, would you let the potential legal procedure deter you from taking actions to terminate the send-receive relationship? Elaborate. Yes, the Cranbury relationship is an excellent example of a shared services benefiting both districts. Nearly one-third of NJ districts have send-receive relationships because they make fiscal sense and benefit students. The Cranbury relationship provides PPS with its third largest source of revenue, approximately $5 million per year (nearly 5% of our budget), outside of the 2% tax levy cap, which supports PHS educational offerings, operating costs and facilities costs. The State determines Cranbury tuition based on an audited cost-per-student number, including interest on facilities bonds. The costs associated with educating the Cranbury students at PHS, where they make up an increasingly smaller percent of the student population, are a much smaller amount, so PPS receives additional marginal revenue (over $2 million) from this arrangement. NJ law requires board members to support past board decisions, and I support the existing agreement. If a majority of the Board wished to reevaluate, I would reconsider if advised by professionals that the arrangement no longer made sense for PPS mission and finances (including legal costs of dissolution) and that, at the end of the day, the State would potentially approve a dissolution.

The charter school is sometimes pointed to as a significant financial burden for the school district. Do you agree with that statement? If yes, how do you think PPS can hypothetically accommodate the 400+ Princeton Charter School students without increasing the tax burden of Princeton taxpayers to fund the additional facilities and staff required to educate them? The State law governing the PPS and PCS financial relationship is not optimal for either PPS or PCS, and I look forward to potential joint advocacy at the State level to more effectively meet the financial needs of both entities. In the past, State law has seemed to pit the two against one another but the bottom line is that we both serve Princeton students. That is why PPS and PCS are working together to foster a positive relationship, by meeting regularly to discuss shared interests, including ways to find cost savings (such as the adjustment of bus routes and residency checks) and how to support the students we share. There is no plan to remove PCS and transfer all of their students to PPS.

Please provide your opinion on whether the school district is making strides or not when it comes to equity in education. Yes, we are outperforming state averages and neighboring districts in student growth rates as measured by the Department of Education in nearly all categories, but we have a ways to go. Positive steps, including free Pre-K and instructional coaches, training in microaggressions and culturally responsive teaching, racial literacy courses and restorative practices (decreasing suspension rates by 70%), were introduced or expanded during my first term on the Board. Since March, PPS has sent buses into the community on a weekly basis to provide 500 students and their families with daily meals. We’ve invested significant resources in staff positions and initiatives that have had some impact in improving “equity in education” for our students, but lasting change takes time. We should better communicate, measure and assign accountability for these ongoing initiatives and investments. We know who our most vulnerable learners are and should be supporting them K-12, measuring which supports appear to have an impact and which do not. The Board should receive regular updates through a “dashboard” of data — year-to-year growth in standardized testing is only one measure; we must also continue to gather data from climate surveys and third party assessments like the special education review due back later this year.

How will you improve diversity in the school district administration and faculty? I will encourage the administration to continue recruiting a diverse selection of qualified candidates (40% of total hires over the last several years have been educators of color) through trips to historically black colleges and universities, targeted job fairs, advertising through associations and networks and reaching out to candidates of color to encourage them to apply. Once we hire diverse candidates, we need to provide development opportunities and professional and personal supports to ensure they stay.

Do you think the approx. $530,000 spent on the concession stand and restrooms at the high school stadium was a good investment or not? Why or why not? Yes. The PHS field restroom facility, which is handicapped-accessible and supports our commitment to gender equity, includes secure, all-season storage, and a small space for booster clubs to raise funds through concessions and was identified as the Athletics Department’s highest priority included in the referendum approved by Princeton taxpayers in December 2018. We had no basis on which to overturn the public’s vote. The Board began implementing construction of this facility this summer by accepting the lowest bid (lower than the taxpayer-approved estimate). Prior to accepting the bid, at the recommendation of the administration, the Board moved the facility to a more accessible location, reduced the size, added space for external bottle-filling, and compared pricing and pro/cons of prefabricated modules and wood structures. The facility will provide sanitary, accessible and convenient restrooms for our female athletes and spectators, space for State-mandated ice for practices, and aligns with our commitment to student health and well-being.

Should the school district still try to buy Westminster Choir College? Why or why not? Should the WMCC site become available in the future, free and clear of litigation, I would be open to considering a recommendation that PPS, alone or together with the municipality, purchase a portion of that site. However, this would be subject to any required taxpayer approval by referendum. And any such recommendation would need to be based on professional advice regarding the feasibility of and need for the site for school use, and a financial analysis of any proposed project, purchase price, and impact on the PPS operating budget.

Do you believe the school district should buy more property or just use its existing properties/sites if the district needs to expand its buildings to serve more students? What would you use new sites for or how would you use existing land/buildings? Please explain your thinking in detail. This question is difficult to answer in the abstract. I support using our existing properties as efficiently as possible but will rely on data and professional recommendations to ultimately make decisions impacting our schools and community for decades to come. Last year, the Board retained a school planning firm (MMI) to analyze PPS buildings, sites, and educational programs in light of rising enrollments. MMI’s work was interrupted by the pandemic; a report is expected later this year. This will greatly help our understanding of our property capacities, how to further maximize what we have, and plan for what additional space we may need for the future. While Board members may bring to the table expertise and backgrounds in education, law or other professions, we are prohibited from acting in those capacities. Rather, we are charged with making data-based decisions, on behalf of the community and in the interest of students, based on recommendation of the administration, using outside professionals as appropriate.

Do you agree with the school board’s decision to purchase Apple computers and tablets or should the board have considered other alternatives? Why or why not? Yes, I agree. The district considered Acers, Chromebooks, and tablets, but none of them matched Apple in functionality, support, or residual resale value. We also looked at bring-your-own-device models, but private devices pose practical and cost issues with tech support, licensed software, and teacher/district access. Furthermore, private devices cannot be used for standardized testing, all of which is done via computer — and now the District no longer has to purchase separate devices specifically for this purpose. The devices (iPads for K-2, Chromebooks for 3-5, and MacBook Airs for 6-12) were purchased with the existing technology budget at no additional cost to taxpayers. This decision was recommended by the Interim Superintendent (who has extensive experience creating and running online schools) and an internal working group that researched teaching and testing needs, upfront costs and maintenance. We also consulted pro bono with Princeton University’s Chief Technology Officer and the head of Bucks County Intermediate Unit Technology group (a shared service that supports 100,000 students). This initiative is not only fundamental to providing high-quality remote learning to all students—a necessity through June 2021 per the Governor’s orders—but substantially advances equity by leveling the technology playing field.

Do you think the school board should keep or abolish the communications policy that was adopted in November? Why or why not? What are your thoughts on the policy? The Board’s policy on Communicating with the Public (#1100 in the Board Policy Manual), was adopted on September 23, 2008, and last revised on September 4, 2018. The voluntary communications guidelines accepted by the Board in 2019 reflected board consensus and were based on a NJ School Boards Association “best practice” template, which restated the legal obligations of school board members under NJ law. They are now moot, however, because every January, the Board reorganizes and decides how to work most effectively as a team, to accomplish the work of the district on behalf of students.

Some Princeton parents have had the experience that the school district resists giving students credit for material they have already mastered. Students have been forced to repeat subjects that they can already show proficiency in. When permitted by state law, do you believe that PPS should give students credit for existing knowledge and place them in the appropriate classes? Explain your answer. If I am reelected, when the Board next sets goals, I would recommend that academic advancement be reviewed across the District to ensure that there are clear guidelines and processes for placement in all academic subjects, including computer science and languages, and that these are posted publicly and applied equitably, with consideration being given to equity, student wellness and engagement.

What will you do to prevent increases in Princeton property taxes? What are the alternatives you propose? I am in favor of doing everything possible to limit the growth of property taxes by working within the 2% tax levy cap and searching for ways to do better than that. This past year, the Board balanced the budget by finding savings of $500,000 through a culture shift to priority-based budgeting, and by making changes to the staff prescription drug plan and procurement. This past month, the superintendent announced a surplus of $2.9 million, which will act as a cushion against at least $1.4 million of Covid-related expenses, deferred maintenance and anticipated cuts in future State funding. As long as labor contracts and benefits comprise 77% of the budget (83% if one takes out mandatory payments to PCS), we will need to grow revenue significantly or find major cost reductions to keep the general fund levy from rising. It is essential that we continue to focus on already identified opportunities, while thinking creatively, to deliver a great education more cost-effectively.

Do you believe that teachers who are at a higher risk of COVID who have asked to work remotely should be allowed to do so or should have to choose between working in the school buildings or taking a year of unpaid leave? Please explain your answer. As a board member, I cannot comment on personnel matters. I can speak to the fact that, pursuant to the Governor’s orders, PPS is required to provide an in-person hybrid model of school. To do so, we need teachers to be in the classrooms with our students. PPS cannot afford to hire substitutes to teach children in person while paying teachers to stay home. To address concerns and to keep our students and staff safe, we have spent nearly $1.4 million so far on health and safety improvements in our buildings and PPE for our staff, while adopting a split schedule to maintain required social distancing. In addition, students have the option of opting for all-remote learning. If teachers are not comfortable returning to our buildings, we have offered them the option of a one-year unpaid leave of absence (and we will replace them with a substitute). Where possible given numbers of students choosing remote, some teachers who wish to stay home may be assigned to teach an all-remote cohort.

How would you propose to expand PPS pre-k education now that the governor has signed legislation to provide school districts with more pre-k funding? Over the past two years, the District was able to expand tuition-free Pre-K twice, and it is now available to 75 children, including some 3-year olds and a dual-language Spanish class, by applying for a State grant of over $700,000 and partnering with the YWCA to provide additional teachers and classrooms. The District also began collaborating with local preschools to help promote parent education and to help better understand the local demand for additional free Pre-K. If additional funds do become available from the State, and the District determines there is a need for more spaces for low-income students/students receiving services, I would be supportive of the District’s applying for additional State funding to expand the program further because early childhood supports have been shown to increase long-term learning outcomes and to reduce classification rates.

The recent administration presented a budget that cut support and teachers for struggling students, and the board approved it. Do you think this was the right decision given budget constraints or what would you do differently? The most recent budget, approved in April 2020, was balanced with no cuts to staff or programs, due to the introduction of priority-based budgeting and over $500,000 in savings found by our new business administrator. NJ law requires Board members to support past decisions of the Board, while remaining free to indicate the reasons why they may have voted against. In the case of the budget approved in April 2019, I supported the decision and voted for it.

How do you plan to advance the special education/general education inclusion goals in the face of the blend of in-person/virtual programming? I will support our administrators as they develop schedules to provide appropriate services to our students with often multiple and differing needs, in both remote and hybrid settings, given the scheduling, staffing, resource and other challenges of running a school district of 3800+ students during a pandemic. I will continue to encourage innovative and creative thinking outside the box to develop policies which promote inclusion and inclusive practices and find ways for special education and general education students to be together learning and socializing in our schools

How has the current school board fallen short and how will you improve? How do you plan to restore trust and credibility of the board or do you think it is already trusted and credible? Based on public comment at board meetings and my personal interactions with community members, I believe that a large majority of people in our community view the Board as trusted and credible. During the campaign, I have been fortunate to hear from many community members who have been overwhelmingly positive about the work of the Board over the past two years, including our work to cut spending and stabilize the budget, improve building maintenance and carefully implement referendum projects, the initiation of free Pre-K, the food delivery to 500 families during the pandemic process and our hiring of three talented new senior administrators and an experienced interim superintendent who is leading us through an extremely complex school restart. We always welcome dialogue with the community as to how and what we can do better.

The candidate questions were submitted by readers. We received questions from more than 100 residents. Many questions were similar and we chose a variation of the question or combined them. We eliminated questions that were obscure or unrelated to the schools, and questions that were actually statements and were not really questions.We did not edit answers unless they exceeded the word limit. All candidates were given the questions at the same time and the same deadline for completing them.


  1. Beth, isn’t it true that the 70% drop in suspensions is due to the fact that the previous year, 40 band kids were suspended for drinking, and thus not having that large group suspended all at once accounts for the big drop? It’s disingenuous to use that stat given those facts.

  2. School board policies or guidelines don’t change when the board changes. This policy is still in effect, board member communications still restricted.

    1. Yes, never heard of school board policies expiring at the end of the year. Also, if it expired, why did Beth Behrend put that ridiculous disclaimer at the top of her responses from the dumb communications policy, stating” I am responding here as a private citizen and am not representing the board in any way.”

      1. She is very dangerous. She is the reason people talk bout diversity.She gets along so well with others… especially when those others are our last superintendent or others in the town who do things behind closed doors.. the communication policy unconstitutional. She is a lawyer and should know better.

  3. @Princeton Rez The reason for the statement “I am responding as a private citizen” is that a Board member can be charged with ethics violations (per state law) if it is perceived that they are speaking on behalf of the board when they aren’t authorized to. Given the ridiculous issues this board has had, including how OPRA requests for Board emails revealed that Ms. Behrend, as Board President, was using the Board attorney to go after two other board members, she was being wise to have the statement there.

  4. This policy of silencing publicly elected school board members -of requiring their silence – is illegal and unconstitutional. How is this still the policy? Has anyone taken his to court? This policy is not legal. You cannot tell a publicly elected official they cannot communicate with the public? Can someone please explain to the taxpayer how this policy is still legally in effect?

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