Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 14
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
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PRS Budget Praised, Criticized, and Passed; Now Princeton Votes

Linda Arntzenius

On Tuesday, March 27, after receiving commendations and criticisms from several Princeton residents, the Princeton Regional Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt the budget for the 2007-08 school year.

If approved by voters on April 17, the $76.1 million budget will result in an increased rate of $1.72 for every $100 of assessed value in the Township (10 cents more than last year) and an increased rate of $1.89 per $100 of assessed value in the Borough (16 cents more than last year).

The first speaker to address the public budget hearing — a 10-year Borough resident, who did not want to be identified — spoke on behalf of residents living on fixed incomes and facing increases that he described as "neverending," and "double the inflation rate." "My contemporaries are very stressed," he said. "When is it going to stop?"

Helmut Schwab, a 30-year resident of the Borough, questioned specific budget costs. Since the board's goal must be to curb costs beyond inflation, why, he asked, have instruction costs risen well above inflation, by 8.7 percent, while the number of students has remained constant?

Board members reported that the costs were due to increases in janitorial staffing and other items necessary to maintain the high quality of education in Princeton.

Mr. Schwab also questioned the board's foresight in budgeting for increased costs that result from recent facilities expansion such as the swimming pool at John Witherspoon Middle School and the new Performing Arts Center at the high school. As a result of higher property taxes, he said, there were elderly people on fixed incomes who were being squeezed out of Princeton. He described one such elderly woman who had lived in town her entire life but could not afford the necessities because of high taxes.

Township resident Linda Schwimmer, who has two children in district schools, also questioned several budgetary items including charter school costs and costs for an increased number of children sent out of district to private schools.

Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson said that the district would be opening an autism center at the high school in an effort to reduce the number of students placed outside of the district.

Regarding charter school costs, Ms. Wilson reported that the district was obliged by the state to budget $3.4 million for charter school students. "We have had to budget dollars for students who might attend the new Mercer Arts Charter High School this fall, even if they do not do so; the same is true for Princeton Charter School's expansion of grades," she said, adding that the state legislature was sending contradictory messages proposing consolidation while at the same time making it relatively easy to create charter schools.

Commending the board for their efforts, Township resident John Powell said: "This is the best money I ever spend. I am part of producing generations of students who will be receiving a first class education. This is my opportunity to be patriotic, to do something for the nation. When I can no longer afford it, I'll move out of town, I suppose."

Borough resident Yina Moore also commended the board for doing what it could to reduce increases. She singled out Vice-President Alan Hegedus for his fiscal restraint and "dogged approach" to budgeting.

Ms. Wilson reported that budget increases have shown a downward trend over the past few years, with a clear projection that it will continue to go down. "This is the start of a period of post-expansion stability," she said.

A Budget Newsletter was mailed to Princeton homes on March 28 and details may be found on the district's website:

Other Business

The Board also approved an application to the Bristol-Myers Squibb and Rider University Grant Program for the Enhancement of Science Teaching for the period July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008, for professional development activities. The project will provide professional development for teachers in promoting health and food literacy in elementary classrooms.

A uniform, school-wide grading scale at Princeton High School was approved for implementation and tuition rates for non-residents for the 2007-08 school year were st at $18,515 for preK and Kindergarten; $15,848 for grades 1-5; $16,667 for grades 6-8; $15,817 for grades 9-12 and Cranbury district; and $36,436 for special education (autism).

Departing board members Charlotte Bialek, retiring after nine years, and Cranbury representative for four years, Adam Hawes, and PHS English teacher Maureen Shea, retiring after 37 years in the district, were thanked for their service and contributions.

Granted Tenure

The Board also approved the recommendation of the Superintendent to grant tenure to the following teaching and administrative staff during the 2007-2008 school year: at PHS: Maya Ban (biology), Joseph Gargione (industrial arts), John Miranda (athletic director), Greta Muca (English), Angela Siso (supervisor of student activities), Peter Stanton (mathematics), Renee Szporn (special education); at JWMS: Donald Maier (special education), Dineen Permahos (English); at Community Park: Rachel James (Kindergarten), Deborah Schulterbrandt (special education); at Johnson Park: Sandra Henry (pre-K); at Littlebrook: Barbara Beaumont (special education), Julie Frank (special education); at Riverside: Christina DeLillo (reading recovery/basic skills), Jill Montgomery (speech language specialist), Judith Schoenstein (guidance), Lynn Spirko (special education); and in Valley Road Administration: Agnes Golding (director of student services).

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