To the Editor:
After attending two Princeton Public Schools Board of Education meetings regarding the district’s proposed 2017-18 budget, I’d like to commend the administrators and Board members for working to find ways to plug the gaping hole created by the expansion of Princeton Charter School, which will add $826,266 this year to PPS’s non-discretionary obligations.
Many hackneyed, misleading tropes are being tossed around attempting to minimize PCS’s effect on taxpayers. But the numbers reveal the significant impact of this new obligation forced on us by non-elected charter school trustees and a politically-motivated governor.
This year’s $800+K additional payment to PCS almost doubles the increase in the district’s total non-discretionary expenditures from the prior: the change in non-discretionary expenses overall is $1,721,520, of which the increased PCS payment is 47.8 percent.
Of the total $3,794,989 proposed increase in both non-discretionary and discretionary expenses for 2017-18, the additional payment to PCS accounts for 21 percent. Thus, 21 percent of the increase to taxpayers will pay charter school tuition for 1.4 percent of our total student population — all of whom could be well-served in the public schools.
The proposed budget also includes cuts — money taken from the remaining 98.6 percent of our community’s public school children. The proposed cuts will hit curriculum and instruction, maintenance, technology/security, staff, all spending categories essential to maintaining high-quality education and services to our diverse student population.
Listening to the in-depth discussions on what actions can be taken to meet the additional $826,266 burden caused by PCS’s expansion, it’s clear how limited the district’s options are, given that the budget is predominantly fixed-cost and non-discretionary, and given the tight time frame (state law requires approval of a final budget by April 25). Many good ideas were raised, but most require a longer horizon for implementation.
But right now, even with cuts, a tax increase of 4.7 percent may be required to balance the budget. More than a quarter of that increase is due to PCS’s expansion, one that the local taxpayers subsidizing it overwhelmingly opposed.
The next school board meeting about the budget is Tuesday, March 28. I encourage the public to attend.