January 18, 2017

To the Editor:

The stubborn fact of primary education is that the greatest predictor of student achievement is having parents of high educational attainment. Princeton schools are so successful primarily due to a virtuous cycle of attracting to the community and retaining highly educated parents. Our schools are human institutions and the large amounts of money we spend on them does not guarantee them to transcend human imperfections, no matter how wonderful any individual teacher may be. For example, our experience over three years in Princeton Public Schools was that our very high property taxes were not offset by a reduction in parental workload (or an increase in academic or social achievement at school) required to keep our older disabled son from falling through the cracks as a “discipline” problem.

We were ready to leave Princeton, confident that we could achieve comparable results elsewhere with half the tax burden. As it happened, our children were lucky enough to be drawn into Princeton Charter School. Our older son, in particular, has thrived academically, emotionally, and socially over the year and half he has attended. He now spends no time in the principal’s office, and we communicate constructively with the school to navigate challenges that arise from his ADHD and ASD diagnoses. Our experiences with PCS have cemented our commitment to remain in Princeton and work to strengthen PCS and improve its service to the whole community.

We recognize that PCS is not serving enough of Princeton’s economically disadvantaged families. We therefore support the proposed changes to the lottery system because they are fundamentally about increasing access and achievement for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The lottery will be weighted in favor of those students. Kindergarten will become the main entry point to smooth the integration of students (and parents) into the PCS culture and curriculum. This will benefit all students, but especially disadvantaged ones who may need sustained intensive educator focus. Increasing the school size will further broaden access of the community to the school.

We view the Charter school as an important element of the Princeton educational ecosystem, providing an additional high quality educational option to help perpetuate Princeton’s virtuous cycle. It bears reiteration that PCS students are Princeton students: nearly all matriculate to PHS where they positively contribute to the school’s dynamism and success.

Dr. Ethan Schartman

Dodds Lane

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To the Editor:

It costs less to educate a child at the public Princeton Charter School than at the other Princeton public schools.

Moreover, many parents judge this education to be more desirable, since there are more applications than available slots.

Some critics say that the proposed Charter School expansion will financially hurt the district. According to them, expanding a less expensive and more desirable option results in a net loss for the district!

Please, keep such sophistry away from our children’s education.

Juan Maldacena

Newlin Road

To the Editor:

The high quality of our public schools, including the Princeton Charter School, is something that all Princeton residents can rightfully take great pride in. However, rising fixed costs (especially healthcare) and expanding enrollment will pose serious challenges to our ability to maintain this level of excellence. Only by coming together around creative ways to contain costs that we can all embrace will we be able to secure the strength and well-being of our schools. The recent decision by the Trustees of the Charter School to submit an application to the State of New Jersey to expand is the wrong move, at the wrong time, and conducted in the wrong way (without any forewarning or input from the broader community and to be decided not by Princeton residents at all, but rather by the New Jersey Commissioner of Education).

The assertions of the Charter School leadership that this move will save the public schools money are dubious and, by all the information I have seen, simply inaccurate and self-serving. By taking $1.2 million out of the public school coffers and allocating it solely to the Charter School for the 76 additional slots sought there, the existing fiscal challenges to the school system are only compounded. I urge the Board of Trustees of the Charter School to retract their application. If they truly believe (as they claim) that their move is in the broader interests of the community, they should have the courage of their convictions and delay this move until there is a consensus in the Princeton community as to its wisdom.

Both the Charter School and the Princeton Public Schools are funded out of the same limited pool of resources — working together they have the best chance of ensuring the continued success of both. A house divided, however, cannot stand. If this application moves forward and is approved by the Commissioner of Education, it will only backfire on the Charter School to the extent that it both galvanizes vocal and sustained opposition from those, such as myself, who have not previously considered themselves opponents of the Charter School and undermines the quality of the very high school that the Charter School itself feeds into.

So I repeat my fervent request that the Charter School leadership drop their application to expand …. And I urge all residents of Princeton to voice strenuous opposition before it is too late and a chasm opens up between the Charter School and the Princeton Public Schools, to the detriment of both.

Cliff Birge

Hunt Drive

To the Community:

I would like to thank the Princeton community for giving me the opportunity to serve on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education for the past three years. It has been a very rewarding experience and I hope my contributions have benefitted our students. I especially thank Superintendent Steve Cochrane and my colleagues on the Board for their help and advice. I heartily recommend others in the community to consider serving on the school board. Election petitions are due in five months, so this is a great time to start planning to run!

Tom Hagedorn

Cherry Hill Road

To the Editor:

I write in the spirit of love and respect for my community regarding the proposed Princeton Charter School (PCS) expansion. My family and I joined this community ten years ago, when both Princeton Charter School and Princeton Public Schools (PPS) were already established and high performing. We’ve enjoyed friendship, laughter, and community building with so many families from both PCS and PPS. Though my children attend PPS, we did look at PCS as an option. I count among my closest friends PCS parents. My children enjoy deep friendships with PCS students. As Superintendent Cochrane has said, they are all our children. This sentiment resonates with me.

There is goodness in our community, and when there isn’t, I’m convinced that it is the result of unintended consequences. While I think the proposed Charter School expansion comes from a place of goodness by the PCS trustees, I believe the unintended consequences will be detrimental to all our children. This, because the resulting budgetary constraints on PPS will be crippling. Any loss of budgetary strength will be detrimental to PPS. Since so many PCS children matriculate through the upper levels of PPS, it makes sense for the two entities to engage in regular communication and cooperation.

I’d like to voice support for the idea that the good people of PCS and PPS come together to reevaluate the proposed expansion of the Charter School. I support striking a more conciliatory tone and truly stepping into the shoes of the other side. Assuming bad intentions helps no one. None of us try to teach our children to assume the worst, so why should we engage with vitriol?

It is my sincere hope that the trustees of PCS and leadership of PPS will come together to discuss how best to educate all our children without unintended harmful consequences. A withdrawal of the petition to expand, a withdrawal of the Sunshine Act lawsuit, a reminder that we are all one community and can accomplish great things together. A commitment to work together for the greater good of our community and all our children.

JEAN YELOVICH DURBIN

Mt. Lucas Road

To the Editor:

The decision whether to expand Princeton Charter School (PCS) should be a community choice of how we dedicate public funds to best educate all of our children and achieve social equity, rather than a contest of personal anecdotes.

It necessitates a careful look at the impacts on fund:

Fact 1: PCS expansion will immediately take $1.16 million out of the existing school budget. (In addition to the $4.9 million it already takes.) Those redirected funds will no longer serve 91 percent of Princeton children in order to accommodate 76 new students at PCS (less than 0.2 percent of students). As explained by our superintendent, this will eliminate funds without significant cost savings. If enacted, Princeton Public Schools (PPS) will have to eliminate programs to make up the lost revenue.

Fact 2: State legislation caps annual school funding increases at 2 percent of funds. School funds from a tax increase can only increase $1.4 million under recent state law.

Therefore, taxes for everyone in town would increase just to cover the increased funding drain by PCS on our schools’ budget. To repeat: If enacted, EVERYONE in Princeton will pay higher taxes next year and in years to come to accommodate the Charter School, but our public schools would only get a very small fraction of that tax increase. PPS would then have to manage next year’s budget with anticipated increased enrollment and unavoidable annual expense increases with no significant change in funding despite increased local property taxes. The end result would be higher taxes combined with a lower quality education for the vast majority of students across the town.

These are facts, not feelings and anecdotes. No number of heartwarming stories about “my child’s experience” in either setting changes the social impacts of this unnecessary and ill-considered move. This matter is a public choice that should be made by the community at large. An unelected and independently governed board with no electoral oversight should not be making financial policy choices for the community at large. This proposal, detrimental to the community at large, should be stopped. It is a divisive and undemocratic proposal solely for the benefit of a few at the expense of the majority.

PAUL SUOZZO

Prospect Avenue

To the Editor:

I just used the last of my Chanukah candles and noticed that the label on the box showed that I had purchased them at Jordan’s in the Princeton Shopping Center.

Sadly, Jordan’s is gone.

I do not know why the new owners of the shopping center chose to terminate the lease on one of Princeton’s most useful stores.

If I needed an unusual card or eclectic gift item, I could almost always find it there. In addition there was always the owner Mr. Wildman’s smiling face.

STANLEY ROSENBERG, MD

Conifer Court

To the Editor:

I was never a student or teacher at Westminster Choir College, but over the years I have attended many a concert there and, as a playwright, I have had the pleasure of working with some of its amazingly talented students. The Westminster student body is relatively small, but every student I have ever met has been seriously, passionately devoted to singing or musical composition or the playing of one or more instruments. These fine young people know why they are there and seem to grow and thrive on Westminster’s beautiful Princeton campus. It is rare that a small American college can fit so harmoniously, as it were, into a quiet residential section of a bustling university town.

There is no doubt that Rider University has the right to pull the students and teachers out of Westminster, ship them down to Lawrenceville, and sell the Choir College campus. Some of the students will go, some will not, but the Choir College, even if it keeps that name, will never be the same school. The quiet and beauty of the campus, not to mention the charming relationship between the College and its neighbors, have had a lot to do with why the College has attracted so many outstanding students. All such benefits will be lost if Rider abandons the Westminster’s campus.

Perhaps the folks at Rider should think about why they wanted to own Westminster in the first place. Surely it was not to make big bucks; rather, it was to acquire a small but enormously prestigious institution that could be a true asset to the Rider family. I gather that there were other schools like Yale and Juilliard that wanted to acquire Westminster, but Rider won out, in part by suggesting that it would keep the Choir College in Princeton rather than move it away. I hope that the management at Rider will remember what was said to the Westminster people at the time of the merger and will honor the spirit in which the merger between the two schools took place.

MARVIN HAROLD CHEITEN

Meadowbrook Drive

To the Editor:

In my recently published booklet called the Story of Maxwell Lane, I showed that the name “Maxwell’s Field,” applied to a portion of the Institute for Advanced Study’s (IAS) land contested by the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), was historically impossible. Mr. Robert Maxwell bought and moved into the property in 1925. His purchase included the whole area housing the Battlefield and the Institute campus, from the southwest side of Princeton Pike down to the Delaware and Raritan Canal. This vast property was known as Mercer Manor, defined and named by Job Olden when he bought it from his father in the 1830s. As far as I know the term “Maxwell’s Field” was first used (invented, I believe) by the PBS in its polemics against the IAS. Happily the dispute between the IAS and the PBS is now resolved. However, the incorrect nomenclature lives on. In his statement announcing the territorial resolution, the Institute’s director used the discredited title “Maxwell’s Field,” and now the Town Topics article, “Surprise Accord Ended Battlefield Strife,” published on January 11, used it more than once. It is a small point, but then scholarship is comprised of small points brought together to make up historical truth.

Marilyn Aronberg Lavin

Maxwell Lane

January 11, 2017

To the Editor:

We are writing in response to the letters from parents of Princeton Charter School (PCS) students in support of its expansion. Parents writing to local press advocating expansion often focus solely on what a good school Charter is and how great it’s been for their children. The debate here is not and has never been about whether or not PCS is a good school. No one is asking PCS to close and nothing is lost by PCS if the school does not expand.

We think that it is important to simplify the point of the debate: can PPS (Princeton Public Schools) afford to hand over $1.2 million of taxpayer dollars without negative effect on the other 3,700 students PPS is obliged to educate? No, it can’t. Just simple, uncomplicated arithmetic. (We will skip over the second debate here, with regard to the broken governance that allows this to happen at all. PPS, with it’s elected board, being asked to hand over $1.2 million of taxpayer’s money to another, un-elected and unaccountable school board).

The arguments that expansion of PCS would “save the district money” and that it “costs less to educate a PCS student than a PPS student” are specious. Simply removing the cost associated with special needs children does NOT render this an “apples-to-apples” comparison. Please refer to the work done by Dr. Julia Sass Rubin, professor with the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, available on the Facebook Keep PPS Strong site.

We will offer two other significant costs that last week’s writer did not consider in the “apples-to-apples” comparison: the cost of running a high school, (Charter does not have one) and the cost of Princeton Public Schools ESL (English as a Second Language) program, (Charter serves 0 students in this category). Just two examples of several other factors needed to make a complete and fair comparison of per student cost.

Hopefully, the expansion will not happen and our school district will not be weakened. The high school is particularly vulnerable and if our class sizes surge and/or we lose programs, we risk slipping in our state and national rankings. Not a stretch to understand property values could thereby go down. All of which should be of concern to PCS parents, as 90 percent of their PCS graduates end up at PHS. Also of concern to any Princeton property owner. This is not just a school issue.

We enjoy the hugely diverse demographics of Princeton Public Schools. We would be glad to see PCS implement the weighted lottery system next year under any circumstances. We are disappointed to see that PCS had lost ground on socio-economic diversity, with only 1.4 percent of students being of low income for this school year as compared to 11 percent in 1990. Even at double weighting, this is still a lottery. PCS should do all it can to enroll AND retain these most worthy students, in an effort to truly be the “no child left behind” school referenced in last week’s Letter to the Editor.

Jim and Valerie Walker

Grasmere Way

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To the Editor:

We, the undersigned, have all served Princeton as elected public officials, and we understand the critical importance of transparency, democratic representation, and accountability to the community whose tax dollars fund our public assets. The Princeton Charter School trustees’ application to expand the Princeton Charter School by 76 students, at a yearly cost of at least $1.16 million dollars, apparently was planned by the charter school trustees without any notice to or input from the Princeton Public Schools or the greater Princeton community, which is responsible for funding this expansion if approved. Forcing the Princeton school district to pay an additional $1.16 million annually to the charter school, plus even more in transportation costs, will be devastating to our public schools. These increased costs to the public school district would consume most of its entire allowed 2 percent yearly budget increase.

We are all proud of our excellent, open enrollment public schools, ranked among the best in the nation. The Princeton public schools represent generations of taxpayer investment, are our town’s most valuable public assets, and the foundation of strong property values. If this expansion is approved by the state Commissioner of Education, it will surely and irreparably erode the quality and value of these public assets — and negatively impact the 3700 children who now attend the public schools.

The nine private citizens on the charter school trustees board are not democratically elected by our community. Although they are required to comply with the same transparency requirements as our elected school board and town council are, the trustees’ meetings don’t seem to be properly noticed, and their meeting minutes are often not published for months. The trustees themselves have said the expansion proposal is the result of “months of careful planning,” yet few, if any, public records reflect this. Our duly-elected public officials and the entire community only learned of the proposal less than 2 days before its filing. The charter school trustees’ secretive decision-making process, and the unfairly sudden announcement of their proposal, compound the anti-democratic, unjust nature of their harmful expansion proposal. The Princeton community and our children deserve better. For these reasons the Princeton Charter School trustees should withdraw their expansion proposal.

Anne Burns

Winding Way

Mia Cahill

Bayard Lane 

Molly Chrein

Ridgeview Road 

Rebecca Cox

Madison Street

Daniel Haughton

Finley Road

Martha Land

Westcott Road

Sue Nemeth

Bayard Lane

Afsheen Shamsi

William Patterson Court

Michele Tuck-Ponder

Laurel Circle

To the Editor:

The members of the Westminster Community Orchestra would like to thank the greater Princeton community for their generous support of our annual Christmas/Chanukah Sing-a-Long concert collection. At this past December’s concert, audience members contributed 124 pounds of food and nearly $300. In the four years we have held these concerts, we have collected a total of 400 pounds of food and over $850. Food donations have been delivered to Arm in Arm (formerly the Crisis Ministry), while the monetary donations have been sent to organizations such as the Rescue Mission of Trenton, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, HomeFront, and Womanspace.

We are truly grateful for our audiences’ thoughtfulness and are happy to be able to help these worthwhile organizations. We look forward to collecting even more donations at next year’s event.

Ruth Ochs

Conductor, Westminster Community Orchestra

To the Editor:

For decades, Princeton has deployed the same controversial leaf and yardwaste collection policy. The logic goes that homeowners and landscape crews can conveniently pile leaves and yardwaste on the streets, which the town then collects and composts outside of town. But there’s also considerable illogic at work. The illogic plays out in many ways: expense, confusing schedules, the hazards of blocked traffic and bike lanes, global warming gases from all the mechanized scraping, hauling, vacuuming, and composting, substantial nutrient runoff into streams, impoverished and hardened urban soils, bias against homeowners on busy or narrow streets, widespread ordinance violations, and a scarred streetscape. And did I mention the annoying, interminable groan of leafblowers as landscape crews eviscerate a client’s yard of every last leaf in order to create a street hazard?

There’s nothing malicious here, just as we mean no harm by each contributing to the collective radicalization of the planet’s climate while keeping our homes comfortable, running errands, or visiting grandma. The road to hell is paved with unintention.

As with climate change, most of the downsides from current leaf/yardwaste policy come from a lack of containerization — the use of public space as a dumping ground. As a culture, we curbed this impulse long ago by containerizing trash and recyclables. Visitors from the west coast, where yardwaste is also containerized, are baffled by our messy streetscapes. Cities with tree cover similar to ours, like Durham, N.C. and Ann Arbor, Mich, also require containerization, using a combination of yardwaste bags and convenient roll-out containers.

The ongoing debate over Princeton’s leaf/yardwaste policy has remained paralyzed by two opposing contentions. First is the common claim that homeowners couldn’t possibly utilize all their leaves in their yards. But those massive piles of leaves are mostly fluff. A more optimistic claim comes from the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC), which contends that containerization combined with a “leave the leaves” approach would be sufficient for the vast majority of households.

I used to think that better education would solve the problem. As a former PEC member, I wrote Princeton’s Guide to Leaf Management, available online. But calls for better education put the onus on environmentalists to somehow get the word out, and mere words cannot compete with the overwhelming visual. What people see and imitate is leaves piled in the street, not the largely invisible backyard composting and mowing of leaves back into the lawn.

Guesstimates put the cost of current policy at close to $1 million per year. Our policy stalemate could prove even more costly in the future, as Princeton is considering spending millions more to put a roof over its armada of leaf collection vehicles. Before we enshrine a collection policy with so many downsides, we deserve a full accounting of all direct and indirect costs, and test alternatives. I call on Princeton to mount a leaf management “challenge” in which a group of homeowners who claim that loose leaf collection is necessary agree to manage their leaves/yardwaste for a year with leaf corrals, mulch mowing, and containerized collection.

It’s time we use our resourcefulness and adaptability to find solutions, rather than endure year after year the downsides of current policy.

Stephen K. Hiltner

North Harrison Sreet

To Mayor Liz Lempert and Princeton Council:

Princeton is a great place to live in and it attracts new people. Growth is not a problem to fight, but a wonderful opportunity. As Princeton residents we feel lucky to be here, and would like to share our wealth with others and live in a welcoming and inclusive community, rather than erect invisible walls around our town. We hope that in making decisions in 2017 and beyond, our elected officials shape municipal laws welcoming smart growth that is well planned, fiscally thought-through, and beneficial to all residents: old-time, recent, and future. Here is a list of goals we would like to have our government work on in 2017:

• Maintain Princeton’s status of sanctuary city for the benefit and safety of our community members, no matter where they came from;

• Welcome refugee families: we can make a world of difference for families who have lost everything they had, and we know if we were in their place we would only hope that someone would do this for us;

• Encourage development of mixed income rental housing in town — allow a diverse population to move to and stay in Princeton;

• Encourage development of new starter and medium-priced duplexes/condos/houses to allow a diverse population to have an opportunity to own a home in town;

• Create an entrepreneur-friendly environment that will allow a diverse range of businesses to flourish: new co-working spaces, start-ups, shops, restaurants, art studios, urban farms, etc. Working and living in the same place brings people together, encourages involvement in the local community and reduces traffic;

• Encourage creation of affordable and high quality early childcare in town (for example, the excellent Lakeview and Harmony Schools, which are unfortunately not accessible without a car);

• Encourage environmentally friendly initiatives: provide incentives/bonuses for environmentally-friendly development, green businesses, creative and alternative ideas in energy conservation and generation, alternative transportation strategies, etc;

• Engage in a conversation with the University through which common goals can be established and the town and university can partner to achieve these goals;

Given the direction the new administration in Washington is taking, we feel it is very important to work locally to maintain our values of inclusivity, respect for one another and our environment. As our elected officials, we hope you can lead the way. Our own goal for 2017 is to be more involved and to help where possible. We are busy professionals and parents, but we have a lot of expertise and we care a great deal. Don’t hesitate to ask for our assistance and opinions.

“This 2017 Wish List has already been signed by 35 community members; to add your name, go to tinyurl.com/Princeton2017WishList

Marina Rubina 

Quarry Street 

Yael Niv 

Franklin Avenue

January 4, 2017

To the Editor:

I’m a tax payer living in Princeton and I welcome and support the PCS expansion. It is only going to further benefit our community overall. I lived with my family in Princeton Township for more than 15 years and one of the primary reasons for that is the school system, PCS in particular. PCS has not only given a great academic education to my kids, but has also groomed them to have a balanced outlook towards various aspects of life. My kids are extremely happy to be part of the PCS network. PCS’s faculty are passionate and take great care in nurturing the best education possible with “no kid left behind” approach. Although the Princeton school system is great in general, PCS does set the bar very high from an academic education perspective, driving healthy competition to all schools in Princeton, which can only result in broader benefits to our community. PCS expansion will sure help many other parents like us in Princeton who are waiting eagerly to get a seat for their children in PCS.

Mohan Viswanathan

Cherry Valley Road 

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To the Editor:

Princeton Charter School’s (PCS) proposal to expand its elementary school classes could help address existing overcrowding in the Princeton Middle and High Schools. PCS’s proposal to use an income-weighted lottery to expand its elementary school offerings was developed in response to projections of an influx of new students due to the recent development of apartment complexes in AvalonBay and Merwick-Stanworth. Since these new neighborhoods are expected to attract young families with elementary-school-age children, it makes sense to expand PCS’s Blue Ribbon award-winning education to that age and income group.

PCS currently serves elementary and middle school students at a cost of $15,300 per student compared to the $24,000 per student spent by the Princeton Public Schools (PPS). (These figures are apples to apples comparisons because they are based on publicly available data and exclude spending on special needs education.) This would be a good time for PCS to expand because PPS has not built any additional classrooms or hired new teachers to accommodate these new elementary-school-age children yet. By absorbing 60 new K-2 students before PPS has incurred sunk costs, PCS is offering to pass-on savings of $8,700 per student to PPS that can be used to address some of the overcrowding in its Middle and High School. That sounds like a win-win solution to me.

Smita Brunnermeier

Maclean Circle

To the Editor:

We would like to thank the many people in our community who helped make our first “Soul-filled Bowls Project” — a locally created and implemented project raising funds to feed the hungry in our community — such an extraordinary success. $4,000 was raised and donated to Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) and Mercer Street Friends, two local organizations working to feed the hungry (“food insecure”) in Mercer County.

Local artists donated handmade ceramic bowls that were sold at the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) on December 3 for $20 each. Blawenburg Inn donated chef-prepared soups that were served to visitors in their new bowls, and Brick Farms and Halo Farms donated delicious freshly baked breads to go with the soups. Visitors browsed the ceramic bowls displayed in the Taplin Gallery and enjoyed delicious kale or lentil soups in the Solly Theater and the Community Room. In a few hours, more than 200 gorgeous bowls were sold, countless bowls of fabulous kale and lentil soups and fresh rolls and loaves were eaten.

We’d like to thank all the bowl-makers for donating their beautiful creations for sale, with a special “shout out” to the Arts Councils students who worked so tirelessly and collaboratively, the Princeton Day School students who donated two huge bins filled with gorgeous handmade ceramic bowls, and the PDS teachers who enthusiastically embraced the project and integrated it into their curricula.

We’d also like to thank the local businesses who generously donated their wonderful foods to this event.

A big “thank you” also goes to the ACP staff, teachers, and students who helped set up the gallery and the soup tables, served the soups, and cleaned up the building at the end of the day.

We are especially grateful to the Arts Council of Princeton for sharing its facilities and support, for the representative from Mercer Street Friends who discussed food insecurity in Mercer County, and for the many members of our community who came out to share the spirit of this event.

Soul-filled Bowls Project Committee

Ceramics Studio, Arts Council of Princeton

December 28, 2016

To the Editor:

The quality of public education, the dedication of teachers and staff, the level of involvement in the community demonstrated by the Princeton Public Schools are just extraordinary.

Charter School expansion will result in a significant drain on the PPS resources, and it pains me to think that the music programs, the field trips, and other activities that my kids and their classmates benefited from so much will necessarily be affected. The increasing enrollment in PPS in the last couple of years already strains the system, and this is not the time to put the taxpayer money elsewhere. The resource allocation resulting from this proposal will be unfair and will hurt a lot of children who deserve better, all for the sake of a small school that constitutes only a miniscule proportion of the town’s educational system.

While PPS is deeply integrated into the community, the Charter School exists in its own universe and contributes very little to the needs of those not attending it. The approach taken by the Charter School Board in submitting their proposal without any meaningful consultation with the PPS or any public discussion is an ample demonstration of this isolation.

It is my hope and the hope of the many concerned parents that the Department of Education will make the right choice, follow the line of arguments presented by the PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane, and not approve the proposed expansion.

Anna Mendlin

Autumn Hill Road

To the Editor:

Princeton Regional School ( PRS) Board met recently. The Town Topics of December 14 featured a lengthy front page article “reigniting the battle” over Princeton Charter School enrollment and funding [“Charter School Expansion Proposal: Opportunity for Creative Collaboration?”]. This included mention of President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination and appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. My guess is PRS’s superintendent and Board are preparing to counter or prepare to withstand, not to accommodate, changes stemming from a forecasted “climate change” for public schools nationwide. Why?

Politically leveraged reform and seminal change will soon be focused on alternative educational “choices” other than our public school establishment’s education monopolies. There will be strong advocacy for as well as regulatory and legislative actions directed at achieving a more balanced allocation of the nation’s educational resources and, especially on federal support, for other choices. Why? One only has to look at probable, macro scale changes under leadership of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos with implementation strongly backed by Vice President Pence, who is very experienced in this arena and of like mind. Pence as governor of Indiana was a major player in achieving education reform during his tenure. Another Indiana governor Mitch Daniel, honored Princeton ’73 grad now president of Purdue, is also a leader in educational reform.

Based on a long public record of significant involvement as change agents on educational issues, both DeVos and Pence will likely propose, among others:

• Broad use of VOUCHERS for students enrolled and attending a wide spectrum of private and religious schools.

• Significantly increasing numbers of “CHARTER SCHOOLS” based on what works measured by targeted performance metrics to ensure success in schools in varied demographic communities

• Strong support for “SCHOOL CHOICE” in a much broader context facilitated by Vouchers, more Charter Schools, and related support to alternatives to public schools.

The undersigned as a member of the PRS Board of Education and a strong supporter of the Charter School cast the tie breaking vote to establish the PCS. The PCS since inception has met or exceeded every expectation expressed in my call and justification for approval. The PPS superintendent and Board’s efforts seeking to deny approval of the PCS request to expand enrollment should not and will not succeed. Frankly, in my view, the adverse consequences of approval to PRS are not only grossly exaggerated, but highly speculative and without factual foundation.

Perhaps overreaching on issues out of my depth, but more “layman” views and assessments will follow as the appointment and transition process (first 100 days) evolves. Common Core and other programmatic educational issues for academia are sure to be on the DeVos and Pence agenda.

John Clearwater

Governors Lane

To the Editor:

I recently completed an attic renovation. A challenging “do it yourself” project that was a lot of fun and a pleasure to do.

I want to recognize the help and professionalism from the Princeton Zoning and Building Departments. They were helpful from beginning to end; the initial permits, pre-inspection, rough-in inspections, and the final inspection.

John Pettenati handled the construction inspections. He was very informative and gave valuable insights on “roughing in” the attic and many, many how-to suggestions.

Joe Matticoli did the electrical inspections. Both he and the building office were also very helpful on questions concerning wiring and electrical connections.

Both departments showed up precisely at the appointment time, and answered all my questions. The behind-the-counter staff was helpful and informative.

The Princeton Building Department deserves high marks!!

And we had an issue with trees in my neighborhood. I contacted the Princeton Arborist, Lorraine Konopka. She was also very professional, visited the trees and area in question, and got back to me a day later (!) with answers to my questions.

Great job Princeton Government!

Robert C. Frantzen

Lambert Drive

Editor’s Note: The Town Topics Mailbox policy is that letters with negative content are shared with the person/group in question in order to allow the courtesy of a response.  The YMCA was not given the opportunity to respond on December 21st and we apologize for that oversight. 

Contrary to Claims of Discrimination Against Disabled, Princeton Family YMCA Provides Widespread Access

To the Editor:

The Board of Directors of the Princeton Family YMCA would like to respond to a letter in the December 21 Mailbox that falsely claims that our organization discriminates against individuals with disabilities. To the contrary, the Princeton Family YMCA has provided widespread access to our facility and programs to ALL of our citizens for 60 years, since the facilities were first constructed. We are proud of the undisputed fact that generations of children and adults with a wide range of abilities — physical and intellectual — have participated and enjoyed our various programs, ranging from swim and group exercise classes for adults and children, youth sports, a free LIVESTRONG program for individuals living with cancer, group mentoring, summer camps, and after school programs including Princeton Young Achievers (just to name a few!). Indeed, the Princeton Family YMCA is a beacon in our community by providing first-rate educational and healthy living support to all individuals — regardless of race, age, national origin, ability, or socioeconomic standing.

It is important to note that the Princeton Family YMCA is a charitable non-profit, cause-driven organization that depends entirely on revenues from membership and program fees and contributions from generous donors. The YMCA also provides more than $500,000 each year in subsidized programs that are free or low cost to our neighbors who are most in need, as well as in direct financial assistance to individuals and families. Every dollar the YMCA receives is reinvested back into the community.

With that said, we wholeheartedly agree that our aging facility is in dire need of significant upgrades to provide better access to individuals with disabilities, as well as to other members of the greater Princeton community. As a board, we are in the midst of a campaign to raise awareness of this need, and to raise the necessary funds so we can provide a top-notch facility that our entire community can enjoy and take pride in. We are very proud that we successfully completed the first step of three for our planned “refresh.” The first step, that encompasses the main level, includes a new reception desk with an accessible counter, two new handicapped-accessible restrooms and family changing area, renovations to the women’s locker room that include accessible counters and lockers, and throughout the spaces, all new doorways, doors, lever sets, and electrical switches that meet accessibility standards. And it’s important to acknowledge that these improvements were funded through individual charitable donations from caring people here in our community.

In the coming months, in addition to the “refresh” campaign, our board will be leading a needs assessment to determine how our YMCA can best serve our community, as we prepare to develop a comprehensive strategic plan which will include a larger vision and master plan for our facilities. We look forward to welcoming our neighbors’ input and participation as we embark on this journey, and to continuing our efforts to strengthen the foundations of this community with a focus on youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. We also invite everyone to visit us soon, take a tour, and see how the YMCA is making a difference in the lives of so many here in the Princeton region — and please consider joining us!

Merilyn Rovira, 

Chair Board of Directors, Princeton Family YMCA

To the Editor:

I write to second the letter in Town Topics on Dec. 14 complaining about the leaf piles that narrow our streets and make them unsafe for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians [“Due to Leaf Piles, Streets in Our City Remain a Dangerous Slalom Course].

Although Princeton has strict regulations as to when loose leaves can be put out (one week prior to the pickup week), many homeowners (or, more likely, their yard maintenance companies) place leaves in the street in disregard of the rule (either well before or after the pickup). Yet apparently neither our elected officials nor the Department of Public Works seems to have ever taken notice of this phenomenon (just drive around any fall day and you can’t miss it) or cares to enforce the regulation.

I’m not necessarily defending the rule — sure I’d like to put leaves out when it is convenient for me and not have to adhere to an arbitrary schedule — but then why bother having this requirement if it isn’t enforced?

Of course there are alternatives such as bagging leaves, mulching, and composting, but these are not always practical approaches for many homeowners.

Steve Frakt

Lake Drive

December 21, 2016

To the Editor:

We oppose the expansion of the Princeton Charter School as both unfair and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

While the effects of putting a charter school in a small suburban school district were unknown when the school opened 20 years ago, the negative impacts are apparent now. The existence of the charter school segregates our students and leaves the public school with less money to provide the valuable public service of educating every student that resides within its borders regardless of their income or any learning issues.

As taxpayers, we should expect that our property tax dollars are used in the education of our community’s children where they are most needed. The school board elected by the entire Princeton community and the superintendent they hire are the ones to determine where our resources are best used. If a Princeton resident is unhappy with the board’s decisions, he can vote in new members at the next election. Better yet, they could run to be a school board member themselves.

If the state grants the Princeton Charter School this expansion, our citizens lose their voice in how that money is spent. Instead, over a million dollars will be taken from our accountable officials and given to the Princeton Charter School whose board is elected only by the families that attend the school. Property taxpayers have no recourse if they disagree with how the money is spent. The concern is real. The Princeton Charter School plans to use the money for elementary grade expansion. Meanwhile our high school is bursting at the seams.

Princeton relies almost entirely on its local residents rather than the state to fund its schools. Yet, if they allow the expansion, the state is deciding how our locally raised money is used and removing all community oversight! We all want quality education for our children. But this expansion benefits a small group of families already very generously served by the existing charter school at the very real expense of our public schools and our taxpayers.

Amy Craft 

Poe Road

Megan McCafferty 

Fisher Avenue

Julie Tromberg Ramirez 

Stone Cliff Road

To the Editor:

The Princeton Charter School expansion is not the right decision for our Community.

The PCS trustees’ proposal seeks 76 more students, 60 of whom will be in grades K-2, at a cost of $1.16 million dollars that will be taken out of our existing school budget each year.

The trustees of Princeton Charter School claim that by taking 60 children in grades K-2, from Princeton’s 4 Elementary schools, plus taking $1.16 million dollars each year from the current Princeton Public Schools budget, the expansion will help the Princeton Public Schools with their enrollment issues. It will not.

First, enrollment at Princeton High School has been steadily rising for years and is already at or above capacity. None of the new 76 Princeton Charter School “seats” will help PHS.

Second, in the past two years, John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS) enrollment has ballooned. The district must have the funds in its upcoming budget season to hire more staff, in order to maintain/readjust class sizes and maintain programs there. As explained above, the bulk of the Princeton Charter School expansions proposal would call for taking 60 children currently in grades K-2, from the 4 Princeton elementary schools. That does nothing to lessen JWMS’s enrollment.

Third, the PCS proposal calls for an additional few kids per grade, in grades 4-8. This will take out only a handful of students from JWMS, spread over the three grades there. This will not affect enrollment, nor will it lessen the need for the district to hire more staff there. If charter school expansion happens, JWMS will still have almost the same number of kids, therefore will still need the same resources and teachers. Fixed costs remain the same! and as a result, we will not have the money to staff those needed new sections. Once again, the PCS expansion does not help JWMS. As a matter of fact it further weakens JWMS now and in the future.

Lastly, the majority of children PCS would take would come from three grades across the 4 elementary schools, which aren’t experiencing a crowding issue. Even if they were, the expansion as proposed would not meaningfully help.

So, if the PCS expansion doesn’t help PHS, doesn’t help JWMS, isn’t needed in the 4 elementary schools, and only weakens the excellent Princeton Public Schools as a whole, why is it being forced on our community?

Wendy Vasquez

Audubon Lane

To the Editor:

As a graduate of Princeton University and a former New York City public school teacher, currently a resident of Princeton and a teacher at Princeton Charter School, I am surprised by the antipathy some in this community have directed towards PCS’s reasonable and modest expansion plans. Given how good a job PCS does in educating 348 Princeton public school students each year, it is ironic and sad that some question its very right to exist, much less expand. PCS is a public school that is successful because it has competent and compassionate leaders, who create an environment that attracts and retains talented, committed, and supportive teachers and a talented, committed, and supportive student population. These characteristics do not make PCS a private school, as some in this community have suggested, but a model for what a successful public school can and should be.

Arthur Eisenbach 

Russell Road

To the Editor:

I am writing to you to express my appreciation of your paper’s coverage of the Princeton Charter School expansion plans. As a parent of a child that went into PCS as a kindergartner in 2002 and graduated from it, I would like to express my support for its expansion.

PCS was a great educational experience for our daughter. An impish naughty handful when little, she was nurtured by the excellent teachers there to become a thoughtful person, and extremely well prepared for the challenges of high school. She attended PHS, and went on to attend Princeton University. We credit PCS for instilling the right academic habits and inspiring intellectual curiosity, and PHS for providing the additional challenge and social maturity.

When we had enrolled her in PCS kindergarten, we did so because we had been hearing anecdotal comments from parents of older children that they chose PCS to avoid John Witherspoon middle school, which, in the early 2000’s was, supposedly, not as strong in academics as PCS. Over the years, the grapevine script has changed: we have been hearing how wonderful JW is, which means that the competition from PCS must have facilitated changes that improved its quality dramatically. I believe that competition is a good thing. It keeps PCS on its toes, because its charter gets renewed only if it provides education at least as good as the district schools, and it keeps those schools on their toes as well. It also instills an ethic of constant improvement, which only serves our student population better.

 While our daughter was a student there, PCS received a “Blue Ribbon” award, as part of the “No Child Left Behind” act. I was proud as a parent, because this meant that the school did not cherry-pick the students, but instead worked with the students it had, and was able with its more limited resources to improve the academic skills of its most disadvantaged students, more than other schools in the area.

PCS is ready to accept the challenge of educating more disadvantaged students by changing its charter to a weighted admission lottery, which would favor them substantially. I would like to ask for your support and the support of the entire Princeton community in this challenge. It is a noble challenge, in the spirit of a cooperative competition, and it is something open-minded Princeton citizens should embrace.

Nadia Braun

Cherry Hill Road

To the Editor:

I called up the YMCA this afternoon and heard its welcome message. The Y is for healthy living (I ask how, if those who need it cannot access the exercise room), social justice (really, the Y by not making the facility accessible is discriminating) and everyone is welcome (how?).

I ask you how the Y can say or even think that when they exclude a segment of the community, the handicapped, from two thirds of its facilities.

Someone on the ADA helpline told me that, while older buildings were exempt from the original ADA regulations, Title 3 regulations are that 20 percent of a renovation budget of older buildings should be used to make the facilities more accessible. The Y is using semantics when it says it is “refreshing” its facilities rather than renovating them. When they redid the women’s locker room they changed where the entrance was, to make checking in to the facility easier for the staff, and replaced functioning (although no longer pretty) lockers but did nothing to make the area more accessible.

When I spoke to the CEO, Kate Bech, about making the facility more accessible it was clear from her comments that accessibility was not a priority, and she indicated that there was not money for making all three floors of the facility accessible. So I go back to my question, how can the Y be a community organization when it discriminates against the handicapped.

Nancy Hall

Walnut Lane

December 14, 2016

To the Editor:

Princeton Councilwoman Jo Butler [from a transcript of Princeton Council Meeting, Monday November 28]: “I am a little bit worried and this doesn’t have anything to do with this project but with the University’s settlement of that lawsuit; it does seems like we have a lot of our housing in Princeton, and particularly in this neighborhood that will be um, not free market um, housing and so that there are people that will qualify for this homestead exemption, that do qualify for the homestead exemption, and through the University settlement will be able to stay in their homes perhaps longer than they would have and that’s great for them personally but as the price appreciates, all of that price appreciation will go strictly to them and it may take some supply out of the market which because people won’t have to sell their houses in a way that they might have had to sell them without the University settlement and so we’ll have even less supply in the market and there will be fewer opportunities for people at that entry level who would like to move into Princeton so there’s a lot to weigh here I think in this situation.”

I nearly fell out of my chair listening to such reprehensible babble from an “elected official” with an “unfettered free market trumps all” mentality, even at the expense of current residents. At best it displays a remarkable callousness toward the plight of lower income homeowners who just want to stay in their homes. At worst, since it came in the context of the Waxwood on Quarry Street discussion, it sounds like Ms. Butler would prefer that the diversity of this extraordinary neighborhood be eroded.

Is it a bad thing or undesirable thing that individuals in Princeton who qualify for the homestead rebate may be able to stay in their homes longer? And why focus on only the WJ (Witherspoon-Jackson) neighborhood? Under Ms. Butler’s assertion, if it’s unfortunate that families in the WJ neighborhood will be able to stay in their homes longer, would it not also be unfortunate that families in other neighborhoods will also be able to remain in their homes longer … or is it just the WJ neighborhood because of its affordability for first time homeowners as she references.

Unless the comments referenced above can be explained or an apology given by Councilwoman Butler she should be taken to task and held accountable by the following:

First and foremost everyone who lives in the WJ neighborhood and those less fortunate than others in Princeton wherever they may live. Secondly, each of the 869 homeowners, households, and voters, who will be helped by the allocation of the Princeton University settlement based on their eligibility for the homestead rebate. Lastly but certainly not least any and all fair-minded levelheaded citizens of Princeton who understand and appreciate that a roof over one’s head provides shelter and protects those who live inside, regardless of their status and/or income level, and they should be able to live under that roof as long as possible, by any means necessary or available to them.

It is after all their home.

Leighton Newlin

Birch Avenue