March 15, 2017

After Expansion Approval PCS, PPS Await Appeal, Law Suit Decisions

The way forward for Princeton Charter School and the Princeton Public Schools remains cloudy two weeks after Acting State Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington approved the PCS request to expand by 76 students over the next two years.

PPS has filed an appeal of the decision and will request a stay, while PPS and PCS have also sued each other for violation of the Sunshine Law [Open Meeting Act].

The District has claimed that the Charter School expansion approval will drain $1.2 million in taxes from the school budget every year, necessitating program and staff cuts or large tax increases.

PCS has begun recruiting applicants for next year, under a new weighted lottery system which was included in the recent proposal as a means to increase diversity in PCS admissions.

As PPS budget discussions proceed, the question has been raised as to whether a longer phase-in of more than two years on the Charter School expansion would mitigate the financial effect on the District schools. PPS Board President Patrick Sullivan, however, has rejected that possibility, suggesting instead that PCS consider a merger with the school district.

Mr. Sullivan mentioned that the District had proposed a merger under which the Charter School would retain much of its autonomy. The alternative, he suggested, would be both undemocratic and expensive, necessitating a significant tax increase for the town.

Criticizing the expansion as “exactly counter to what our community wanted,” Mr. Sullivan claimed that it “was done with zero input or representation from the affected parties.”

Leaders from PPS and the PCS had been holding private meetings prior to the commissioner’s decision, but apparently little progress was made in reaching a resolution to the conflict.

Both sides, however, have expressed frustration with the way the state’s funding laws pit public schools and charter schools against each other in the battle for limited funds, and both have emphasized the desire to work together for the good of the schools and the community.

“While we, as a District, are committed to addressing this decision in the courts,” Mr. Cochrane said, “we are equally committed to ensuring that our schools, our classrooms, and our community remain welcoming environments for every student and their families.”

Continuing to contend that the expansion plan would have limited impact on the District, PCS Board Chair Paul Josephson highlighted the importance of choice in public education and expressed his confidence that the two schools “will be able to find common ground going forward and that we can work together, collaboratively and in good faith, to provide the best possible public education opportunities for all Princeton students.”

Collaboration between the two warring groups will be the challenging order of business after the courts have rendered their decisions on the law suits and the District’s appeal of the expansion approval.