Emotions Aroused by Charter School Debate Are Not Good for Community or Our Children
To the Editor:
The controversy over the Princeton charter school application to expand its student enrollment by 76 students awakens old memories. I served on the Princeton school board from 1998-2001, a time when the mere idea of a charter school had become a divisive issue.
I know the kinds of emotions this issue can arouse and hope that we can minimize them this time around. They are not good for the community and most importantly not good for our children.
I see nothing nefarious in the Charter School’s desire to expand the school’s enrollment. It is perfectly natural if you believe in what your school is doing and you have a long waiting list.
Nevertheless, I am disturbed by the Charter School’s seemingly very narrow view of the School’s place in the larger community. Indeed, it seems to recognize no responsibility at all — at least that is what I take away from the statement of the president of the Charter School Board that defended the school’s application by noting that the fiduciary duty of the Board is to “our students and the financial viability of the school.”
That might be true as a legal matter but it is an unacceptably narrow view of the Charter School’s place in our community. I am not against charter schools. Indeed, our daughter worked for the KIP School organization before marriage and children. But I support it in its context as an element of our larger school system, one that plays a role but at a cost. And to pretend that the Charter School has no responsibility to consider the impact of its request on that larger community of taxpayers and public school parents undermines precisely the reason I believe charter schools have a useful role in the first place.
This application comes at a particularly sensitive time. The Princeton Council is wrestling with a $2 million budget gap and the School Board is facing challenges of its own. The mayor of Princeton and the president of the Princeton Regional School Board have both expressed their concerns about the size of this request. It does seem to be a rather large one; it would increase the Charter School’s size by more than 20 percent and would drain more than a $1 million dollars from the larger school system budget.
This is the kind of issue that should be amenable to compromise. But that can only happen if the Charter School Board recognizes that it is part of a mosaic, not a fortress on a hostile frontier. It is also incumbent on those who oppose charter schools in principle to recognize that this is not the context in which to re-litigate their legitimacy and that a modest expansion should be acceptable to all.
There is something else at stake in this controversy. Princeton likes to think of itself as a leader, a bit of a city upon a hill. But leadership is a matter of action, not words. In this case, leadership requires that Princeton figure this problem out for itself and not leave it up to the State Department of Education to declare a winner that will leave a portion of the community aggrieved.
I do know this. We decry the inability in Washington to resolve differences. Perhaps we can show them how it’s done.