Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 36
 
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
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New School Year Presents Challenges

Dilshanie Perera

Hopes for a school year threatened by new legislative strictures and the future of the Valley Road Building were the main themes at last week’s Board of Education meeting.

“No two years are the same, but 2010-11 is going to reflect a particularly different set of circumstances,” said Princeton Regional School (PRS) District Superintendent Judy Wilson in her opening remarks at the Board’s first meeting of the academic year.

“Fewer faculty and support staff” are the result, she said, of legislative changes made at both the State and Federal levels. Diminished funding made itself felt as early as this last “different kind of summer,” during which students participated in programs that were “not up to the same level of offerings as usual.”

Ms. Wilson said the damaging legislation tended toward “over-regulation,” and reflected “short-sightedness.” In the face of a “loss of control,” she observed, “school boards across the state are working harder than ever.” The current economic downturn, she noted, “will continue to present challenges to us,” as a two percent cap on property tax will result in a $3 million shortfall in next year’s budget. “We’re already preparing for it,” Ms. Wilson reported.

“We know that it’s the internal work that matters,” she added, however, noting PRS’s “tradition of excellence.” She cited a “stronger curriculum and upgraded standards,” as well as the availability of more technology — and its more effective use — as promises of success in the new school year. “A strong partnership with the community that focuses on every one of our 3,600 students” and newly formatted website (www.prs.k12.nj.us/) that offers “much more user-friendly information with greater depth” all helped lead to her conclusion that “we’re ready.”

School Board President Rebecca Cox described some “slight adjustments” in school scheduling, including a change in “consecutive minutes of instruction” at the elementary level, and an earlier break at Princeton High School (PHS). An additional minute added to every PHS class will result in an additional hour of instruction each week, Ms. Cox said, and the Wednesday school day will end ten minutes later than usual.

Although tough financial times were among the reasons for new State and Federal legislation, Ms. Wilson noted that PRS “hadn’t made plans for Race to the Top funding,” so New Jersey’s recent failure to win that award was “of no concern.” Finance Committee Chair Charles Kalmbach reported, however, that the district will go forward with Federal ROD (Regular Operating District) grants that they had originally opted to not apply for because of presumed financing costs. ROD grants amounting to $600,000 will enable, for example the repair of the roof and windows at John Witherspoon Middle School. Mr. Kalmbach noted that “the stewardship and maintenance of facilities and equipment is more important than ever in these financially difficult times.”

Financial concerns are also behind the Board’s current creation of a new “Strategic Action” standing committee that will address the “four cornerstones” of “communication, faculty expectations, student expectations, and technology.”

Valley Road Building

Noting that there has been no formal action taken on the Valley Road Building since 2007, Princeton Community TV (PCTV) Board of Trustees Chair Dan Preston proposed “a middle path” as the “most fiscally, environmentally, and socially responsible use of an asset that belongs to everyone.”

“We hope we can work with you,” said Mr. Preston, noting that the current path to the building’s destruction through lack of maintenance, or complete replacement by “something grandiose” were not in anyone’s best interest. Salvaging the building “may be more reasonable than the District believes,” added Mr. Preston.

He suggested that the non-profits and government agencies that currently occupy the building, including Corner House, PCTV, and the Township Housing Board, be allowed to remain after modest refurbishment of currently occupied and “underutilized rooms full of trash.” This effort was described, he said, in a 15-minute video distributed to Board members.

Township resident Richard Woodbridge echoed Mr. Preston’s sentiments, observing the “slowly gathering” interest in the building evinced by “former students” and others who recognized the “beauty” and strategic location, with its proximity to Township Hall and the Community Park Pool Complex. The current occupants of the Valley Road Building “need to be at the center of action,” he observed, reporting that a “gathering of people” was looking forward to creating a 501C3 non-profit that could engage in fundraising.

“We want to teach our kids to be good stewards of the Earth,” commented PCTV director George McCollough. “Doing that shows leadership.”

For more information visit www.savevalleyroadschool.org or http://facebook.com/savevalleyroadschool. (See this week’s Mailbox for a related letter.)

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