Charter School Expansion Will Create Budgetary Shortfall While Eroding Our Sense of Community
To the Editor:
I am a Princeton resident and the mother of two public school children. Six years ago, we moved to Princeton in large measure because of the high quality of the public schools. I myself am a product of New Jersey’s public education system (in Montclair), and I believe deeply in the promise of public schools to lift all members of our society through education and communal endeavor. I am writing today to urge my elected representatives to publicly oppose the Princeton Charter School’s (PCS) expansion request.
While I have no doubt that PCS is a wonderful, beloved school, I am gravely concerned about the effects its expansion would have on our town’s equally wonderful and beloved public schools. The expansion would take $1.16 million away from the Princeton Public Schools’ (PPS) budget, without lowering PPS’s expenses in any meaningful way. The Charter School argues that its expansion will reduce overcrowding in the public schools, but this is a canard, as PCS seeks to expand precisely in the grades (K through 2) in which the Princeton Public Schools do not experience overcrowding, leaving those grades in which crowding is a problem (6 through 12) untouched.
As I see it, the budgetary shortfall PCS’s expansion would create will have two significant, harmful effects on the education my children receive. First, obviously, it will reduce the funds available to support the schools we love. Teachers will be fired, programs will be cut, and class sizes — especially at the high school, which most PCS students eventually attend — will increase.
Second, more perniciously, it will erode our sense of community. When the funding decisions are being made, the lack of money will pit program against program, teacher against teacher, and families against families. The choices forced by a reduced pot of funding won’t result in efficiency; they’ll result in fights over critical resources, and anguished decisions that divide our population and weaken the sense of togetherness that is so crucial to our schools’ success. I witnessed the painful divisions created by the negotiation of the teachers’ contract two years ago; imagine how divisive such negotiations will be when all money raised by a tax increase goes straight to the Charter School, leaving nothing to cover cost increases for the rest of us?
Finally, a point of fairness: it is deeply troubling that an issue of such vital importance to all Princeton taxpayers is made not by Princeton voters, but by an appointed state official. When I went to the polls, I did not get to vote for the acting commissioner of education. Because I have no say in this decision, I hope that my elected representatives will speak out on my behalf, arguing loudly and forcefully against both an expansion that would severely harm our prized public schools and a funding system that takes away such a critical democratic right from their constituents. I commend Princeton’s town council for having recently done so, and I urge my state representatives to do the same.