March 15, 2017

To the Editor:

In the March 8 issue of Town Topics, three anti-PCS letters were published. I’d like to respond to each letter.

Cara Carpenito asked PCS parents to “examine their conscience [sic].” When the author’s fundamental assumption is that the parents of 348 children (plus waitlist) are bad people, how does a community even begin to discuss collaboration? Would the author say that to our faces at a sports competition, piano recital, etc.? As I have two children at PCS and one at PPS, does that make me merely two-thirds evil?

Further to Ms. Carpenito’s letter, PCS’s “segregation,” particularly of African American students, was not a statistical issue until 2009-2010, when two notable things happened: 1) the financial crisis, which may have led to many private school children returning to public and entering the PCS lottery, and 2) the formation of the de facto anti-charter advocacy group Save Our Schools-N.J., (“SOS-NJ, co-founded by Julia Sass Rubin, who has done work on PPS’s behalf against PCS, outgoing BoE President Andrea Spalla, and Mayor Liz Lempert).

As for Ms. Weir’s assertion that charters are required to mirror the sending district’s population; they actually must attempt to do so. PCS does a large amount of outreach to this end, and is planning more. With the weighted lottery and sibling preference (lottery and sibling preference, incidentally, are also used by PPS’s dual-language immersion program) working in concert, I expect PCS to succeed in short order — if only special interest groups stop using scare tactics and trust parents to decide based on schools’ offerings, not scurrilous moral allegations.

Last, Professor Rubin’s letter. Space is limited, so I’ll focus on these facts: 1) She cited Bruce Baker as a supporting voice, but one should note that Bruce Baker supplied the vanished slide from her 12/13/16 presentation to the BoE — invited by above-mentioned Andrea Spalla — that stated PCS ranked 622nd in the state (hard to believe even if anti-PCS), and 2) that while 22 percent of kids at JWMS did opt out of PARCC, of those who did take it, 37 percent did indeed fail, and that’s not nothing.

I know that I am far from the only parent at PCS who moved to Princeton for PPS, but there my kids are at PCS. Perhaps if PPS took some steps to understand the reasons each family left PPS after having tried it (survey?), PPS might improve for all kids. If PPS did this instead of engaging in lawfare, nobody would want to go to PCS, and it would die. As it is, absent that level of interest, engagement, and self-reflection by PPS, I am glad that more district families will have the same choice ours did.

Liz Winslow

Dodds Lane

To the Editor:

My wife and I are unabashed fans of Princeton’s Curbside Organic Program, and so proud that our city was first in New Jersey to have one! We knew about the obvious benefit — 25 percent of an average house’s waste can be composted. But we were surprised by other things: How easy it was to find compostable bags at Ace or McCaffrey’s (we use small ones under our sink which we put into larger ones in the garage every few days — no smell, no mess); that wheeling the bin to the curb once a week is effortless (and we’re not youngsters); and that determining what goes in is brainless — “if it was once ‘alive,’ it’s compostable.” We even put in pizza boxes and coffee filters. And our trash bin is lighter, with all that organic water weight now in small bags. But the best of it is the rich compost that the program returns to us each spring. We cover our garden with black gold.

People need to renew by April 1, so we did it on the municipal website www.princetonnj.gov/organic/CurbsideOrganics.html.

If you haven’t joined already, do it soon so you can get your black gold this spring.

Chris Coucill and Liz Fillo

Constitution Hill West

March 8, 2017

To the Editor:

Over the past three months, Princeton Charter School staff, board members and some parents have touted the school’s 2015 PARCC standardized test scores as a justification for expansion, and have used those scores to criticize Princeton Public Schools, and particularly the John Witherspoon middle school. However, their claims are methodologically problematic.

First, as multiple studies have documented, standardized test scores are a bad measure of school quality. There are many reasons for this, including the biases built into such tests and the strong relationship between test scores and student demographics. In fact, Seton Hall Professor Chris Tienken has successfully predicted students’ standardized test scores with more than 80 percent accuracy, based solely on the students’ demographic information. On average, students who are low income, have special needs, or are English Language learners score lower on standardized tests, and these groups are all severely underrepresented at the Princeton Charter School.

Second, there is no meaningful data in one year of scores from a new test that has not been validated for accuracy or reliability and that has extraordinarily high refusal rates. The PARCC test was administered statewide for the first time in 2015. The New Jersey Department of Education made clear that the first year’s scores would not be used for any consequential purposes and refusal rates across the state soared. For example, at John Witherspoon Middle School, up to 22 percent of the students opted out of PARCC tests, which made the school’s PARCC results useless.

Third, while administrators and students across New Jersey’s public schools understood that 2015 was an experimental year for PARCC, and treated it as such, that was not the case at charter schools. The Christie Administration evaluates charter schools primarily on the basis of their standardized test scores, which has led most charter schools to emphasize extensive test preparation. In contrast, PPS PARCC preparation consisted primarily of familiarizing students with the new test’s online format. (As a parent of a JW student at the time, I was very happy that PPS chose to focus classroom time on real learning rather than drilling for a test that the Department of Education had admitted was inconsequential.)

Fourth, comparing test results on the PARCC to NJASK (the standardized test that PARCC replaced), is not methodologically feasible. Yet that is precisely the comparison built into the data that PCS touted. PARCC and NJASK tests are structured, administered and scored differently and cannot be compared with any credibility, especially given all the other concerns already noted.

Parents who evaluate schools on the basis of standardized test scores may wish to review the Department of Education’s prior years’ school performance reports, which show that the John Witherspoon Middle School performed much better than the Princeton Charter School relative to both other schools with similar demographics and the state as a whole. Those parents also may be interested in an analysis conducted by Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker, who examined five years of NJASK test performance for all the K-8 schools across New Jersey, controlling for student demographics and resource levels — factors that we know impact test results. Professor Baker found that all five K-8 Princeton Public Schools outperformed the Princeton Charter School. That analysis is available at: http://bit.ly/2n627TT

Julia Sass Rubin

Jefferson Road

To the Editor:

Like so many in our town, despite close friendships with families at The Princeton Charter School (PCS), I am deeply disturbed by the decision of the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to allow PCS to expand at this time. This decision is a case of taxation without representation, ignores the Princeton community’s widespread opposition, and fails to take into account two important outstanding legal issues: 1) PCS does not even come close to meeting the state’s requirement of having a student population that is representative of the district, and 2) the PCS Board of Trustees planned and voted on the expansion plan in complete secrecy despite being a publicly-funded entity.

New Jersey charter schools are required by law to have a student population that is fairly representative of the districts in which they reside. Unfortunately, the Princeton Charter School has failed at this goal for many years. Currently, the district’s K-8 population is 15 percent “free and reduced price lunch” while at PCS that number is 1 percent; non-speech special needs students represent 13 percent of the district K-8 population and only 3 percent at PCS, and students learning English as a second language are 6 percent of district K-8 students and 0 percent at PCS. These disparities also happen to have important per pupil cost implications.

One reason for these gross disparities is PCS’s longstanding policy of giving families enrolled at the school preference in its annual lottery. Because of this policy, about half the spots for incoming kindergartners are filled by existing families each year. Rather than eliminating this policy in the interest of diversification, PCS offered to double the lottery weighting of “free and reduced price lunch” children upon expansion. However, this measure is clearly inadequate given the number and magnitude of the gaps that exist. Given state requirements, PCS should have been required to address this problem adequately before being granted an expansion, particularly since the expansion gives a financial windfall to PCS at the expense of the district schools and the thousands of children in them. I urge the DOE to consider this issue seriously.

PCS’s unlawful secrecy in devising and voting on its expansion is also a serious matter overlooked by the Commissioner. As a publicly funded entity, PCS is required to follow the Open Public Meetings Act. For this reason, I hope that Princeton Public Schools will prevail in its OPMA lawsuit against PCS and render this unfair expansion decision null and void at this time.

Lori Weir

Stuart Road East

To the Editor:

The New Jersey Commissioner of Education’s decision to allow the expansion of the Princeton Charter School was unjust and contrary to the clear overwhelmingly expressed wishes of the majority of Princeton residents. To those who had been paying attention, it was a terrible disappointment but not really a surprise. From the beginning, the PCS trustees boasted that approval of this expansion was locked up in Trenton. Operating within the laws, and considering the best interests and wishes of the Princeton community, were irrelevant to them.

Thanks to the PCS trustees’ politically-orchestrated moneygrab and the Commissioner’s arbitrary rubberstamp approval of the expansion, Princeton experienced the autocratic imposition of the kind of the inequitable “school choice” policies that the Trump-DeVos administration hopes to implement nationwide. This expansion has also revealed just what the ideology of “school choice” really means for communities, children and public education. Under New Jersey’s insidious charter school law, unnecessary, inefficient, and segregated charter schools — funded entirely through public funds without taxpayer approval — are allowed to proliferate over widespread community opposition. Charter school proponents use the progressive-sounding label of “school choice” to mask the inequitable, retrograde reality of their goals: the re-segregation of public schools and forced reallocation of public dollars towards privately-run schools that provide a racially-imbalanced, elitist “alternative” to our excellent, open, diverse public schools, and all at a higher overall cost to taxpayers. The Princeton Charter School is no exception; it is chosen by affluent parents as a means to avoid the public schools (and the diverse student populations in them) without having to pay private school tuition. What these parents don’t realize or don’t bother to see is that the Princeton Public Schools that they seek to avoid are innovative, dynamic, responsive, and educationally outstanding. They are excellent by every measure, and serve all children. What they aren’t is segregated.

Parents at PCS should examine their conscience and ask whether they can morally continue to “choose” a demonstrably segregated school, one founded on inequitable, racist policies, and operated in an arrogantly unaccountable manner.

Cara Carpenito

Maple Street

To the Editor:

As a resident near the proposed compressor site, the article [“Concerns About Proposed Compressor Draw Some 300 People to Public Forum,” Town Topics. March 1] in my opinion did not address the issue of the many residents who will be affected by this.

The article neglected to mention the numerous developments (10) in the area that will be affected by the noise, pollution, and safety hazards of the compressor station site, along with the residents that live along Route 518 and Route 27.

The Kingston Trap Rock is an active quarry that blasts on a continuing basis. If there is an explosion in the area there is only a fire company that is composed of volunteers. Additionally, lack of active fire hydrants and low water pressure are a problem in the area. Route 27 is a major State highway that serves as an alternate for Route 1 when there is an accident. This is a heavily travelled road that would have to be shut down in case of evacuation or fire. I would like to point out that Kingston Trap Rock sold some of their property to preserve open space but would consider selling property to have a compressor station right across the road. On one side of Route 518 they are protecting wild life and nature and but not the wild life and nature and lives of many residents and farm animals on the other side of Route 518. The noise level of and pollution would have a negative effect on the well being health and safety of the residents which include:

Places of worship: Buddhist Temple and meditation center; Mt. Zion AME Church; Durga Hindu Temple; Islamic Center. These all draw large congregations. Schools: Pre school Route 27; Islamic Center School; Kingston School; Buddhist Temple; Sunday School.

The Williams safety record and pipeline/compressor safety record in general is not as benign as Williams TRANCSO makes it out to be. If you check the NOAA weather patterns the wind direction is a southerly wind which will also affect the residents of the Village of Kingston, the central business district of Princeton, Princeton Shopping Center, and many medical facilities.

As a real estate agent for the past 32 years I also hope the residents of the area (Franklin, South Brunswick, Montgomery and Princeton) realize that the value of their homes will decrease rapidly.

Lynn Collins

56-year resident, Little Rocky Hill

To the Editor:

On behalf of the board of Cherry Valley Cooperative Farm, I want to thank all the Princeton residents who joined us for our Open House on February 25. So many people came out to meet the young farmers, wander the 97-acre property, visit with the baby chickens and sheep, and eat together at the community pot luck.

Cherry Valley Cooperative’s vision is irresistibly positive and holistic with a focus on health, wellness, and community. The farm provides Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to the public specializing in vegetables, herbs, flowers, mushrooms, fruit, and berries. But the vision is much bigger than growing and selling produce. We aim to become a community hub — a place to reconnect people to the land through outdoor activities, workshops, special events, yoga, the arts, monthly pot lucks, and more.

As the former executive director of Sustainable Princeton, I know how critical it is to take tangible steps to support the environment. I invite Princeton to embrace these young, dynamic farmers and the farmland they are rejuvenating. Planting, harvesting, and sharing meals is a powerful reminder that our earth is precious and we must continue the fight to keep it clean. All are welcome on March 25 to meet the farmers, tour the farm, and share in our monthly pot luck.

Diane M. Landis

Wheatsheaf Lane

March 1, 2017

To the Editor:

It has come to our attention that a substantial proportion of homes in the Walnut-Cuyler-Dempsey neighborhood have had their assessments increased. As far as I know, no one has had their home’s assessment decrease.

We have several questions about the assessments.

I. The last town-wide assessment seemed to put a larger proportion of the taxes on low and middle cost homes (those under $800,000). Is that trend continuing or has the Western section of the town also had their assessments revalued upwards?

II. If the town’s assessed values of properties has increased, does that mean that the tax rate per assessed value will decrease, or is the reassessment a new name for a tax hike?

III. While the tax assessors’ office acts as though the value of our homes have increased, is it for real, or is it due to the new “large home builds” that are appearing in our neighborhood? I ask because those living in the neighborhood feel as though the newly constructed homes actually decrease the value of their existent homes. The builders have yet to pay much over $400,000* for the homes they tear down. Thus some of us feel that the assessments of our older homes should be decreasing since we can see a time when only builders, wanting our properties for pennies, will be the ones purchasing our homes.

IV. Was there a discussion about doing piecemeal reassessments in lieu of a town-wide revaluation as an agenda item at an open council meeting? We are interested in knowing why the decision was made and the benefits of doing it this way.

*I have been told that recently some builders have offered as much as $600,000.

Nancy Hall, Janet Young

Walnut Lane

Paul Raeder. Robert Holley, Cynthia A. Hedricks, Patricia Lofberg

Cuyler Road

Sarah and Dick Reichart, Debra
and Dominic Vigiano, Judy Koubek

Dempsey Avenue

Susan K. Stein

Terhune Road

To the Editor:

Protecting and preserving our environment is a vital community responsibility that boils down to individual participation. Sustainable Princeton, a non profit organization, is leading the charge with the creation and distribution of a clear, complete, concise Recycling Brochure that was delivered to every Princeton address and appeared recently as the center fold in Town Topics.

Judging by the overflowing green and yellow buckets placed curbside every other week, Princeton recycles. Now the objective is to refine the practice by including everything that is acceptable (like only plastics #1 and 2) and eliminating everything that is unacceptable (like unmarketable plastics #3-7 and all other plastic bags and films, much of which can be recycled in receptacles in stores in town.) Refer to your Recycling Brochure for specifics, and if you need more brochures, they are widely available in the Library, Monument Hall, and many other locations.

A critical part of recycling is composting, backyard or through the Princeton Curbside Organics Program (to join, call Princeton Recycling Coordinator, Janet Pellichero, (609) 688-2566). It is as easy to scrape your scraps into your kitchen compost bucket as it is to put them in the trash, and the benefits are huge: the most important is that you are reusing organics to nourish the soil instead of paying to transport and bury them in a landfill, where costly space is limited. Recycling, composting, and using your own bags at the store means there will be less and less that remains for the landfill.

The future of a healthy environment depends on the habits of each of us. Sustainable Princeton deserves our collective congratulations for helping us to do our best to boost Princeton’s sustainability and set us firmly on the road to being a shining example to others. Thanks to the Sustainable Princeton Staff and volunteers, and the participation of donors for dedication and all the hard work.

Penny Thomas

Constitution Hill West

To the Editor:

It is hard to believe that our nation celebrated Medicare’s 50th anniversary just over a year ago, yet there is now a move in Congress to drastically change the program that has achieved so much.

Don’t be fooled: The push for a Medicare voucher system, sometimes called premium support, is an effort to shift costs onto 1.3 million individuals in Medicare in New Jersey, a number that is rising fast. In other words, you will have to pay more to get the care you need — if you can even afford it under a voucher system. More people will be forced to choose between health care and other necessities. Getting sick will become riskier than ever.

When he was running for president, Donald Trump pledged to protect Medicare, and recognized its importance to older Americans who depend on it. We are now depending on Congress to stand by President Trump’s promise to protect Medicare.

Rising health care costs are a problem for Americans of all ages and political views. It needs to be tackled by both parties, but responsibly. Our nation has been well served by a strong Medicare program that keeps care affordable for seniors. A proposed voucher system would dramatically increase costs for older Americans at a time of life when they can least afford it.

Jeff Abramo

Director of Communications and Engagement, 

AARP New Jersey

To the Editor:

In recognition of Black History Month (February), Not in Our Town, a Princeton racial justice organization (niotprinceton.org) and Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society (CDOS) of Red Bank urge public support of New Jersey’s Amistad Commission and advocates for a curriculum that gives a complete history of the United States. By not being taught the history of all of America’s citizens, our children lose the chance for an integrated and collaborative future with all Americans. Until we fully appreciate the black contributions to America’s successes and acknowledge the white resistance to those black contributions, we will not be able to escape American society’s continuing systemic racism.

The 2002 enactment of the Amistad Bill, the law requiring that all New Jersey schools teach African American history on a regular basis throughout the year, was a heartening first step in this direction. While an important step, we know that the lag between legislation and implementation can be long and its impact devastating, particularly concerning the rights of African Americans. From the arrival of kidnapped and enslaved Africans to the repression of Jim Crow laws, from night-rider terrorism and public lynching, to current efforts to roll back voting rights, our nation has a history of revoking, delaying, and minimizing the rights earned by and owed to our brothers and sisters of color. An education that denies the realities of white oppression and minimizes the contributions of people of color is a continuation of this trend.

When our students are exposed only to white history and literature, the implications are dire. Students of color are robbed of their inheritance of historical and cultural heroes and heroines. The few examples in the average curriculum of black achievement, resistance, and intelligence forces these children to find these historical role models outside of the classroom.

The impact for white children is that they are left largely ignorant of the history of systemic oppression of people of color, the history of resistance to this oppression, and the history of white supremacy. This leaves them woefully inept at identifying all three, and liable to perpetuating this oppression as is illustrated in the Snapchat photo of a student gospel choir performance labeled “slave auction.”

If we truly believe that education is the foundation of our democracy, then it is our duty to ensure that every citizen is receiving a representative education. The creation of the Amistad Commission shows that New Jersey has taken an important step in acknowledging this need, but much work remains to be done in order to turn these ideals into reality.

Not In Our Town Princeton and Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society of Red Bank encourage you to take action every month in whatever capacity you can to ensure our schools are living up to these ideals, and that all of America’s citizens are valued for their contributions.

Simona L. Brickers, Linda Oppenheim, 

Roberto Schiraldi, John Steele

Not in Our Town (Princeton)

February 22, 2017

To the Editor:

Earlier this month, all Princeton homeowners received a green postcard in the mail listing their property assessments for 2017 as well as their assessments from last year for comparison.

Property owners in some neighborhoods — approximately 1000 households total — will see changes to their assessments. This reflects changes in home values as determined by the Princeton Tax Assessor.

Residents may remember the community distress caused by the 2009 revaluation, in which many properties experienced significant changes in their assessments resulting in dramatic increases in their tax bills. A fundamental cause of the giant swing was the fact that the former Princeton Borough and Township had gone 13 years without revaluations, while the housing market had changed significantly over that period.

In order to avoid another devastating revaluation, since then our tax assessor has conducted an annual “compliance plan.” Each year, the Assessor’s office reviews sales from the entire town, looks for trends, and whether assessments match market activity. In neighborhoods where sold homes are selling for 15 percent or more outside the range of current assessments, global assessment changes are made. These changes are reviewed and approved by the Mercer County Tax board. We should note that Princeton’s tax assessor reports directly to the Mercer County Tax Board, and not to Princeton’s governing body.

If you feel your home is assessed incorrectly, we encourage you to make an appointment to meet with the Princeton Tax Assessor to discuss your property. You also can file an appeal. Information about how to appeal can be found on the Princeton municipal website: www.princetonnj.gov/tax-assessor.html. Appeals must be submitted by April 1.

Liz Lempert, 

Mayor

Jenny Crumiller, 

Council President

To the Editor:

I was biking down Cherry Hill Road, on Friday, February 17, at 1:50 p.m., when my bike skidded and I found myself flying over the handlebars and landing face down onto the asphalt. While struggling to disentangle myself, I was aware that a car had stopped opposite me and a lady with a pleasant East European accent was offering her help. “Oh,” I said, “it’s only superficial,” intending to get back on my bicycle and continue the trip downtown. At this moment, a black SUV drove up, and a tall gentleman with an authoritative manner came out, saw me, and told me that I would be taken to the Princeton hospital. I was not pleased by this news, of course, but at the same time was becoming aware of the drip-drip of blood onto my face and clothes. I repeated several times that I would be most grateful if someone could call my wife saying, in a manner of speaking, that I would not be home for supper. At this moment a car with an Emergency Medical Service logo pulled up, apparently by chance, and the driver who was to be most extraordinarily kind and helpful, soon did indeed make the call, telling my wife that I was about to be taken to the ER for a “bloody nose.” When I asked this gentleman what would happen to my bicycle, I was told that, pro forma, it would be taken to the police station, but a moment later, he volunteered to simply put it in my backyard, if I preferred. How kind!

Now it was time for the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad to pull up. I was lifted (for the first time in my life, and I am not young) onto a stretcher — Gor! — and lodged in the ambulance, where a kind helper discussed with me the pitfalls of bicycling with a light, aerodynamically up-to-date bicycle on treacherous roads. I was dimly aware that a young woman helper also in the back was staring at me in a sort of muted horror. Apparently, I was drastically bloodstained in face and clothing and looked, as someone at the hospital was to remark, like Dracula with acid reflux.

At the ER I was treated with customary kindness, alacrity, and skill, where it was now determined that aside from a two-inch gash alongside my nose; a nasal bone fracture; a suspected broken rib; a black eye; and the predictable medley of bruises and contusions, I was fit to be sent home, somewhat the worse for wear, with pending appointments with an ENT physician and — glorious to hear — a plastic surgeon: “It’s the nose, stupid!” (it had never been a thing of beauty). And so, a bit like Hotspur’s oath in King Henry IV, Part One, “Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety,” I emerged battered but exultant. The event has allowed me to appreciate the extraordinary goodness of our fellow citizens — how lucky I am to live here! — and with no mean pleasure, which I share with my family, the prospect of a new and better nose.

Stanley Corngold

Ridgeview Circle

To the Editor:

I was grateful for the letter to the editor (“With Increased Size of Developments Fire Can Spread,” Feb. 15) from Grace Sinden expressing fire safety concern over light-weight wood construction of multi-unit residences. Having been exposed to two large industrial fires, I could not pass by the multi-story multi-dwelling piney-wood skeleton which was taking form at the AvalonBay construction site without apprehension. In my experience, the codes which are influenced by builders in a substantial way are consensus based and not entirely insensible to considerations of immediate economics. Of course less stringent codes can reduce construction cost and increase profit but clearly at a greater safety risk. It seems to me one might ask the question “what is the value of the present codes?” A starting point??

James Manganaro

Dodds Lane

To the Editor:

On February 10, the Princeton Charter School (PCS) leadership sent a letter to the New Jersey Education Commissioner in which they describe their current financial difficulties. Citing both rising healthcare and PARCC testing costs, the school states that they will not be able to sustain current operations without the expansion currently under review. They argue that the expansion solves their financial concerns through the economies of scale that it would achieve (page viii, PCS Final Submission). Despite the fact that this seems quite central to PCS’s motivation for expanding, they did not include this in their expansion proposal, which they call the Access and Equity Plan.

While everyone can appreciate the challenges posed by rising healthcare costs, this is not a good reason for expanding PCS. In fact, all New Jersey schools, including Princeton Public Schools (PPS), are facing rising healthcare and testing costs. Just as adding scale aids PCS’s bottom line, the transfer of funds from PPS would harm our district’s schools when they, too, are facing cost pressures. Nor is expanding a long-term solution for PCS. The forces that led to their current financial situation are not abating. As the cost of healthcare and testing technology continue to rise, PCS will again feel constrained by their fixed revenue in a few years. Will they seek another expansion then? Where does it end?

Rather than asking PPS to pay its bills, PCS should make changes within their school if they wish to compensate their teachers better. Policy changes that make the school more attractive to low income and English learning students would increase their revenue and address their demographic issues. The fact that they chose instead to look to PPS is disheartening.

I encourage PCS to withdraw their application and make those changes or, better yet, look for ways to consolidate our schools. Rising fixed costs at both schools means that Princeton is paying a higher and higher price for school choice. Consolidation would eliminate redundancies and lower costs. Then all of Princeton would benefit from the economies of scale.

Amy Craft

Poe Road

To the Editor:

There’s an interesting Princeton back story to the movie Hidden Figures, which has been showing at the Garden Theater and is nominated for three Academy Awards. The back story centers around the movie’s main character, Katherine G. Johnson — one of three extraordinary black women mathematicians depicted in the film. Despite racial prejudice at NASA, respect for Johnson’s mathematical mind grew to the point that John Glenn refused to climb in the rocket until Johnson had verified the math behind the flight’s trajectory.

On a hunch, I traced the mathematical lineage of Katherine Johnson, and found that the string of mentors and advisors leads four generations back to Oswald Veblen, the great mathematician and visionary who played quiet but decisive roles in building Princeton’s math department of the 1930s, and bringing the Institute for Advanced Studies and luminaries like Einstein and Von Neumann to Princeton.

Another connection to the movie shows Veblen’s vision and courage, not only in helping Jewish scientists escape Nazi Germany, but in his early efforts to bring black scholars to Princeton. Johnson’s college professor, William Claytor, was the third African American to receive a PhD in mathematics, but had been forced to take a position that allowed no time for research. Veblen, aware of Claytor’s limited opportunities to exercise his brilliance, sought to bring him to Princeton University, but the University did not accept “coloured persons.” Four years later, Veblen offered Claytor a position at the IAS, which was not subject to the University’s exclusions based on race. But by that time, Claytor had apparently grown disillusioned, and turned down the offer.

Hidden Figures also tells the story of Dorothy Vaughan, who in the movie teaches herself Fortran and figures out how to run a new computer that was otherwise baffling staff at NASA. It was women “computers” who figured out how to actually operate and program the early computers men built. A similar story was told locally this past week, when two local computer societies collaborated to host a talk on the ENIAC, a World War II-era creation that “was the testbed on which the human race learned how to build and program computers.” Though not mentioned in the talk, it was the visionary Veblen who gave the go-ahead to fund construction of the ENIAC in Philadelphia.

The reason I happened to research these Princeton connections is that Veblen also championed another poorly treated entity whose contributions have long been downplayed — nature. Veblen essentially founded Princeton’s movement to preserve open space. He worked to acquire 610 acres that became the Institute Woods, and in 1957 the Veblens donated the land for Princeton’s first dedicated nature preserve, Herrontown Woods.

As president of the Friends of Herrontown Woods, I have the good fortune not only to research Veblen’s remarkable legacy, but also to lead efforts to restore Herrontown Woods and the house and cottage the Veblens donated along with the land. Recently, we submitted to Mercer County an official proposal to rehabilitate these long boarded up historic structures. The Veblens, and the public, deserve an honest effort to repurpose these structures for the benefit of all.

Stephen Hiltner

North Harrison Street

February 15, 2017

To the Editor:

In last week’s Mailbox [“Some Unanswered Questions About PPS Resistance to Charter School Expansion,” Town Topics, Feb. 8], the writer cites “illegal immigrants” and “children of staff” as students who do not legally reside in the school district and unnecessarily add to the costs at PPS. As the national debate sometimes vilifies undocumented immigrants and questions arise about who should and should not be allowed into the U.S., it is sad to hear echoes of this argument in Princeton with regards to access to our public schools.

It should be noted that the children of undocumented immigrants are permitted to attend public schools according to U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe. And PPS staff members pay tuition to send their children to the district which enables PPS to attract even better teachers. Not only is this a reasonable employee benefit, it adds to a wonderful sense of community in our schools.

While PPS is thankfully required to accept all students, PCS has virtually closed its doors to its fair share of low-income, special education, and English-language- learners children in the district. If there is such a concern about educating students who do not legally reside in the school district, similar questions could be asked of PCS. Why isn’t PCS being held accountable for its responsibility and transparency on schooling a population representative to those in our district?

Carrie Elwood

Poe Road

To The Editor:

A couple months ago as I rode through my John-Witherspoon Street neighborhood I noticed a green, blue orange sign in someone’s yard and I wondered what it said, but didn’t stop to read it at that time. When I got home there was an email that gave me the answer! The email explained what the sign was about. It’s a “welcoming sign” originated by the Emanuel Mennonite Church in Virginia that says, “No matter where you are from, we are glad you’re our neighbor”! I was deeply moved by the friendly, welcoming message and immediately wanted a sign to put in our front yard!

By the way, the email that I received was from our friend Daniel Harris. Thank you Daniel for ordering the sign for us and others! I especially enjoy seeing our Latino neighbors and other passers-bye stopping to read our sign! It’s so great to see that the sign is popping up here and there in Princeton, especially during these troublesome times in our country. I wish that through the years we had read such a sign when my family and I felt unwelcomed at different places, even in our hometown of Princeton!

Minnie Craig

Witherspoon Street

To the Editor:

Regarding the page one story, “Fire in Maplewood Hits AvalonBay Site Still Under Construction” [Town Topics, Feb. 8], a key problem with lightweight wood construction used in large multi-unit residences like the one in Maplewood, in Princeton, and many other newer developments for families, seniors and students, is that overall size, including area and height, is ever increasing. As a result, if a fire occurs it can spread more readily to more units and becomes more difficult for fire fighters to suppress. Under the current code, 4 — 5 stories are allowed.

Even if masonry firewalls are used, the current code allows too many units between firewalls (well over 100 vertical units in multiple stories). Older multi-unit residences were often limited to two or three stories and were of brick or heavier wood that burns less quickly than the lightweight wood now used. The argument of some developers for this less fire safe and moderately less expensive construction is “affordable housing.” However, this type of construction is also routinely used in highly profitable luxury style multi-unit housing.

The U.S. code writing entity, The ICC (International Code Council, a confusing misnomer) is not a government agency. It works on behalf of its partners, primarily U.S. groups in the building industries. The ICC sets minimum standards and its codes have allowed the construction of ever larger residential multi-unit structures with lightweight wood nationwide. These structures are not required to have internal masonry wall construction. Princeton got such masonry walls at the former hospital construction site as a concession after the AvalonBay Edgewater fire. States have limited opportunity (every 3 years) to give input to the ICC but this is often not as effective as it should be due to strong lobbying efforts by a powerful industry at the state and national level with minimal public input and less renter/buyer consumer knowledge of underlying construction before contract signing.

Several bills were introduced in the New Jersey legislature following the Edgewater AvalonBay fire in January, 2015 which displaced 500 people who were living in 240 destroyed apartments. (This is in addition to the same company’s year 2000 fire in a large nearly completed structure on the same site which destroyed 9 surrounding homes, and another conflagration this February 4 in Maplewood where reportedly 24/7 fire watch guards were on duty.) The most comprehensive of the bills is S1632 (Senate)/A3770 (Assembly) are sponsored by prominent legislators: Senators Bateman, Turner, and Weinberg and Assembly members Gusciora, Muoio, and Zwicker.

Even if no loss of life or injury to residents or first responders occurs, the external/social costs of conflagrations are great including: displaced residents, destruction of neighborhoods, lost revenues, and fire fighting/repair costs to municipalities and local businesses. Primary protective remedies should include:

1) limiting the currently allowed area and height of lightweight wood structures;

2) making masonry internal walls a requirement with fewer units between these walls;

3) requiring the completion of construction before allowing occupancy especially if the occupied and under-construction structures are attached.

At the municipal level we should continue to be pro-active with our state legislators and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

Grace Sinden

Ridgeview Circle 

P.S. I am a member of the Princeton Local Emergency Planning Committee which meets quarterly. However, I am writing as an individual.

February 8, 2017

To the Editor:

Like Princeton University, Westminster Choir College is a valued Princeton cultural institution. But Rider University is experiencing financial difficulties that must be addressed to sustain the University and the Choir College. Add to that the desire of millennials and seniors who want to live in walkable communities with a vibrant downtown.

Rather than say no, as Princeton and other towns so often do, we should look for creative solutions. For example, permit the Choir College, with developer participation, to build multi-story housing above their parking lots and open land. This would bring revenue to the Choir College, reduce dependence on cars, increase our tax base, and bring commerce to the downtown, where retail is weak with nearly ten vacant stores. The College of New Jersey successfully completed a venture like this recently.

We are living in a fast changing society, where changes in zoning and attitudes are essential to accommodate growth in a beneficial and tasteful way. Without creative thinking and compromise, we will be left behind, without the Choir College and a diversified community.

Peter Madison

Snowden Lane

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.

Walter Frank

Riverside Drive

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.

Jane Manners

Wheatsheaf Lane

To the Editor:

Recent letters and emails cite “facts” yet when you look at different sources these “qualified” figures often vary greatly. Recent Niche K-12 rating has Princeton district as #1 in New Jersey with student/teacher ratio of 11:1 and expenses per student of $24,209 yet the superintendent quotes hypothetical increases of up to 29 kids per class in first grade if the expansion is allowed and a “weighted” per student cost of $17,373. Really? Again we are being told if expansion at the Charter School is allowed “the children will suffer with loss of programs, trips, and higher class sizes” No doubt these threats will be presented again as they always are when the district asks voters to approve an expansion of their own or their yearly budget.

What is lacking are answers to many unasked questions such as: are we educating students that we are not required by law to educate and if so how many and at what levels?

Are we making the best use of current facilities and staff?

Have we corrected the problems relating to oversight when it comes to facility management? How? (Millions of dollars have been squandered through mismanagement in the past).

Are we taking full advantage of other area resources?

Are we legally required to teach at pre-K level?

How many students do not legally reside in the school district and at what schools and grades are they attending? (This would obviously include illegal immigrants, children of staff members, as well as those who may be using a relative’s address to attend school here while actually living elsewhere).

In the case of staff members, are we as a district being reimbursed money by those sending districts similar to state choice program? How many students are sent from other districts due to special programs we have and at what cost vs. payments received? If overcrowding is of greatest concern at the high school level, why do we continue to accept Cranbury as a sending district and why are we not encouraging more students to take advantage of the County Vo Tech programs? (Some offer college credit courses yet we have very few kids taking advantage of these programs as compared to other districts.) With so many advanced PHS students graduating and attending Princeton University, perhaps some of those should be attending higher level courses there vs. PHS.

I supported the last referendum despite reservations. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have. Not only were there some serious maintenance concerns not addressed (i.e. flooding of PAC), assurances of program support were untrue as the loss of JW’s old gym has had tremendous negative impact upon programs during, before, and after school at both JW and PHS. When it comes to supporting the district’s objection to PCS, tricked me once…

Kenneth Verbeyst

Princetonian, Caldwell Drive

To the Editor:

As a non-profit professional for over 25 years, and a four-time executive director, I know first-hand that you can have the best mission in the world but that without talented, dedicated, and well-trained board members, you will never be truly successful in advancing your mission. In Mercer County we are very fortunate to have an organization that helps us move our nonprofit organizations forward in a very significant way – Volunteer Connect.

When I became the executive director of the Princeton-Blairstown Center a little over three years ago, one of the best pieces of advice I received was to contact Amy Klein, the executive director of Volunteer Connect. Amy recruits professionals from Mercer County who are interested in making a difference in their communities and then she and her board train them to be engaged and informed board members. Volunteer Connect’s trainees come to a “Meet and Greet” where nonprofit leaders talk with them about our missions and what kinds of skills our organizations need. This general meeting is usually followed by individual meetings to discuss our organization’s programs and the potential trustee’s interests.

I was fortunate to be accepted to participate in Volunteer Connect’s first class, where I met and recruited an incredible trustee who has led our rebranding efforts and chaired our first special event in many years. Since then, we have obtained an incredible new finance committee member and have three more trustees in the pipeline thanks to Volunteer Connect. These trustees ask thoughtful and insightful questions when they meet with our governance chair and they often ask to talk to other trustees before moving forward in the process. This increases the chance that the Princeton-Blairstown Center will be the right “fit” for them and helps them feel more prepared and engaged at their first board meeting.

Volunteer Connect’s highly trained future trustees understand their fiduciary responsibility; their duty of care, loyalty, and obedience; and the need for board members to help introduce the organization to their networks.

Thank you, Amy Klein and Volunteer Connect for helping the Princeton-Blairstown Center and many others in Mercer County strengthen our boards and increase our capacities to serve some of our community’s most vulnerable young people and adults.

Pam Gregory

President and CEO, Princeton-Blairstown Center

February 1, 2017

To the Editor:

We have just sent our quarterly tax payment to Princeton, our home for the past 30 years. While filling in the sizable dollar amount, we reflected on how it relates to the most talked about issue for weeks, the stunning national election results. Let us explain. The consolidation of the Princetons, which we supported and continue to support was, among other things, supposed to result in a more efficient governing body and, logically, lead to a reduction in property taxes. It didn’t, at least for us. In fact our taxes increased every year following, unabated, until we challenged the assessment of our home, successfully. An issue for another time.

In July of this past year, we and our neighbors revived our challenge to the long standing inequity of how the municipality treats the road on which we live compared to similar situations elsewhere in Princeton. We and our neighbors at that time had, in fact pursued this issue in 1990 and had the written support of then Township Mayor, Kate Litvack, only to be stonewalled by the Township Engineer.

We and our current neighbors recently revisited the issue and were able to get a face to face meeting with the new engineer of the now consolidated municipality. At the conclusion, she requested an email outlining the issue, the history of same, and what it was that we sought. We sent a detailed email the following week and got an immediate response acknowledging her receipt of same and stating that she would respond shortly. That was July 25, 2016. The summer passed without a response. On October 2, 2016, we emailed to her what, we believe, was a very polite reminder. It is now six months since our meeting and we have received not so much as an acknowledgment of the reminder much less a response to our original request. We doubt that anyone would challenge our nation’s founder’s call to arms that “taxation without representation is tyranny.” How then should we classify “taxation with selective representation?”

The government of Princeton and its like-minded supporters, so vocally incredulous about the results of the national election, fueled by voter dissatisfaction with how poorly and callously our governments are run, need look no further than its own house for the answer.

Marc and Alta Malberg

Autumn Hill Road