March 22, 2017

To the Editor:

Why can’t some kind of jointly operated music school be developed with Princeton University? Why not a newly contoured school where students are chosen for admission based on their musical abilities, while the degrees they receive come from either Rider or Princeton Universities, depending on where they are matriculating? Westminster Choir College is too wonderful a place just to let it slip down the drain. It is the crown jewel of choral music schools and a crown jewel of our community.

There is at least one precedent for organizing a university institution so that it is shared, and so that the degrees given are granted specifically by the participating institutions. Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) has its own campus in Indianapolis, and is jointly operated by Indiana University and Purdue University. See website: www.iupui.edu. My husband was once an adjunct professor there teaching classical studies.

IUPUI is led by a chancellor, currently Chancellor Nasser H. Paydar. With both Indiana U and Purdue operating in Indianapolis, UIPUI was formed in 1968, after then Mayor Richard Lugar called for establishing a single great state university in Indianapolis. From this premise Indiana U. and Purdue, each commanding their strengths, established a new, bifurcated institution.

When we were there, degrees granted in the humanities carried the name of Indiana University on its diplomas. Faculty in the humanities received paychecks from Indiana University. Conversely on the science side, diplomas and paychecks bore the name of Purdue. Twenty years ago at least, when we were there, this division of mutual respect, comfortably remained, as IUPUI continued to evolve.

So let’s look at Westminster Choir College with new eyes and a new creative solution that can enhance the choral offerings and prestige of several institutions.

Kip Cherry

Dempsey Avenue

To the Editor:

I am an elected member of the Princeton Board of Education, writing as an individual rather than in any official capacity as a member of the Board. I write to reiterate my support for the students, teachers, staff, and administration of our community’s public schools.

I also write to encourage honest dialogue. The Board needs your input, and that of all members of our community, as it looks to craft a difficult school budget for next year, as well as to decide on the best long-term path to make sure that it has the facilities in place to serve our students and families. I urge you to attend the Tuesday, March 28 Board meeting at 8 p.m. The Board will hear a presentation from its demographer on the projected growth in enrollment in the Princeton Public Schools over the course of the next ten years. The Board will then continue its discussion of how best to shape next year’s school budget in light of those growing enrollments, the Princeton Charter School expansion, and the many goals of its strategic plan.

My personal plea is for us to work together while acknowledging the hard work of those who teach and help our students. Let us also reject divisiveness — the misguided urge to tear down individual schools or question the worthiness of specific groups of our students. In any fair assessment, we know from years of official data that all our schools are ranked extremely high, due to the hard work of our children and the unflagging efforts of our teachers and staff, backed by the crucial support of this remarkable community.

Let us continue working together, as parents, residents, and Board members, to identify and fix areas that may need strengthening, but let us stay united to better protect our schools in the current troubled political and economic environment. With your help, the Board has pledged to do so in as efficient a manner as possible, mindful of the financial burden it is asking you to assume.

Most importantly, however, let us heed the words of our superintendent, and never lose sight of the fact that we are working on behalf of all our children. They include those living in every one of our many neighborhoods that together make up our diverse community; they are recently arrived as well as from long-standing Princeton families; they are high school students from Cranbury and from the Princeton Charter School; and they are students who need additional services and support. Our goal should be to continue to serve them all, in order to help each one of them fulfill his or her personal vision of a meaningful life. With your guidance and input, this is a goal that I hope the community will remain willing to support.

Gregory Stankiewicz

Jefferson Road

To The Editor:

As explained in the last Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) meeting, schools are not businesses; in other words, we simply can’t slash one area of the curriculum in order to limit expenses. However, let’s consider the thought for a moment. How would any business that is losing customers to a competitor handle this situation? The answer is obvious: In order to stay in the game, they would rapidly assess why they are losing clients and innovate accordingly. Similarly, since PPS is so clearly concerned by the Princeton Charter School (PCS) expansion, they should begin to ask the hard question: Why are families leaving for PCS?

Thus far, the community debate has largely focused on discrediting PCS goals, shaming PCS parents, and even belittling PCS students. Instead we should move towards rational and data-driven thought. We should reach across the aisles and learn what PCS is doing to attract these families. While some parents are quite comfortable marching into the school to advocate for their child, others are not, and prefer to quietly pack up and move on without ever sharing their reasons.

The solution is not complex. A simple, and potentially anonymous, survey of elementary school PPS parents could tease out these issues. Important questions could be asked. Do you feel your child is appropriately challenged in school? Does homework seem suitable and relevant? Do you feel your child’s report card provides worthwhile feedback? How responsive do you feel teachers, administrators, and board members are to your concerns? Is the after-school program meeting your needs? Are you considering moving your child to another local school next year? Why?

But let’s not stop there. Let’s also try to survey all the current PCS parents and compare the results. With this information, we could move away from ineffective insults and toward thoughtful innovations. In doing so, not only can we make PPS truly strong, but we could even make PCS unnecessary.

Jenny Ludmer

Caldwell Drive

To the Editor:

In the publicity campaign being conducted by Princeton Charter School supporters, I am dismayed to see recurring tactics: discrediting of ample public data showing that PCS is segregated, saddling of taxpayers with a financially draining and inefficient burden; diverting public attention by manufacturing off-base or flatly false counter-accusations; and attacking those who support our public schools. These strategies are sadly similar to those employed by the current administration in Washington. Yet these offensive tactics were publicly lauded by the PCS trustees’ chairman at a recent, lavish PCS fundraising gala.

We are all friends with PCS parents. Surely these calculated conspiracy theories, personal attacks, and especially, reprehensible denigration of public school children aren’t something that our fair-minded PCS friends condone. Anyone can see that they only compound the damage to the Charter School’s reputation following the widely-opposed expansion. I hope that PCS parents and the other trustees of the Princeton Charter School will publicly disavow rather than encourage them. I also urge the PCS trustees to do the right thing for our entire community and unilaterally stay or significantly reduce the number of seats by which PCS will expand. The trustees can do this without state approval.

The only silver lining to this undemocratic, secretly-planned PCS expansion is that thousands of Princeton residents are now keenly aware that New Jersey’s charter school law is broken. As a founding member of Save Our Schools New Jersey (SOSNJ), I can attest that this always has been the position of our organization regarding charter schools. SOSNJ is not “anti-charter;” since its founding in 2010 in response to the Christie administration’s devastating school aid cuts, SOSNJ’s position on charter schools has been straightforward: the state law should be amended to require local, democratic approval of new charter schools or expansions, and greater transparency and public accountability for existing charter schools.

SOSNJ simply seeks basic democratic control for communities and transparency for charter schools. That certain Princeton Charter School leaders see these fundamentally fair tenets as an existential threat to their school is disturbing and very revealing.

Audrey Chen

Linwood Circle

To the Editor:

I want to register my complete dismay with Cara Carpenito’s comments [Mailbox, March 8] suggesting parents of Princeton Charter School examine their conscience for sending their children to a segregated school. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Carol Williams, an African American who resides in Princeton. All three of my children attend PCS.

Ms. Carpenito, I would love to better understand your intentions, but I found your remarks incendiary and representative of the unnecessary animus the topic of the Charter School expansion has led to in our community. Should you be so concerned about our experience, it might help for you to know the PCS school administrators, teachers, and community could not have been more welcoming and my children are thriving academically and socially.

I am completely aware of the history of de jure and de facto school segregation in this country and to suggest these conditions are true of PCS is completely uninformed and irresponsible.

Carol Williams

Crooked Tree Lane

To the Editor:

After attending two Princeton Public Schools Board of Education meetings regarding the district’s proposed 2017-18 budget, I’d like to commend the administrators and Board members for working to find ways to plug the gaping hole created by the expansion of Princeton Charter School, which will add $826,266 this year to PPS’s non-discretionary obligations.

Many hackneyed, misleading tropes are being tossed around attempting to minimize PCS’s effect on taxpayers. But the numbers reveal the significant impact of this new obligation forced on us by non-elected charter school trustees and a politically-motivated governor.

This year’s $800+K additional payment to PCS almost doubles the increase in the district’s total non-discretionary expenditures from the prior: the change in non-discretionary expenses overall is $1,721,520, of which the increased PCS payment is 47.8 percent.

Of the total $3,794,989 proposed increase in both non-discretionary and discretionary expenses for 2017-18, the additional payment to PCS accounts for 21 percent. Thus, 21 percent of the increase to taxpayers will pay charter school tuition for 1.4 percent of our total student population — all of whom could be well-served in the public schools.

The proposed budget also includes cuts — money taken from the remaining 98.6 percent of our community’s public school children. The proposed cuts will hit curriculum and instruction, maintenance, technology/security, staff, all spending categories essential to maintaining high-quality education and services to our diverse student population.

Listening to the in-depth discussions on what actions can be taken to meet the additional $826,266 burden caused by PCS’s expansion, it’s clear how limited the district’s options are, given that the budget is predominantly fixed-cost and non-discretionary, and given the tight time frame (state law requires approval of a final budget by April 25). Many good ideas were raised, but most require a longer horizon for implementation.

But right now, even with cuts, a tax increase of 4.7 percent may be required to balance the budget. More than a quarter of that increase is due to PCS’s expansion, one that the local taxpayers subsidizing it overwhelmingly opposed.

The next school board meeting about the budget is Tuesday, March 28. I encourage the public to attend.

Anne Desmond

Tee-Ar Place

March 15, 2017

To the Editor:

As a parent of two John Witherspoon Middle Schoolers, I am writing to share why I love this wonderful school! JW is run by a dedicated principal, Jason Burr, who works closely with the faculty and staff in order to offer an impressive array of academic and extracurricular opportunities and a warm, nurturing environment to all who attend the school. This is no small task with about 760 preteens and teenagers. Mr. Burr clearly loves this age group, greeting them with a big smile every day and at the many school events that he attends.

JW offers academics rivaled by none. But more importantly, the teachers and staff members strive to build well-rounded, happy kids. Middle school is a time of enormous growth — socially, physically, and academically. JW offers kids a way to spread their wings academically, but also to try different sports (15 to choose from), music, drama, musical theater, science bowl (going to the middle school national finals), poetry, journalism, art, engineering, and more. The teachers are there early, available to meet with our children and to help them reach their goals, whatever those goals may be.

As a parent of three students who have graduated from or are currently at JW, I can say unequivocally that we raise really good humans at JW! I am proud to be a JW parent and I thank Mr. Burr and the rest of the JW team for creating a wonderful learning and growing environment for our children.

Dina Shaw

Clover Lane

To the Editor:

I read Cara Carpenito’s letter last week asking other parents to examine their conscience [“PCS Parents Should Examine Their Conscience: Can They Continue to ‘Choose’ a Segregated School,” March 8 Mailbox]. Princeton is a town of unmistakable wealth, with average incomes triple that of our neighbor Trenton. Adding to our schools’ economic and racial segregation, we additionally bus in mostly Caucasian students from wealthy, suburban Cranbury, which is almost as far away as Trenton. Princeton and Cranbury students attend schools that afford privileges out of reach for most Trenton children. To address this issue, I implore the Board of Education to implement a voluntary program where Princeton parents who want to demonstrate their commitment to equality can offer to swap their children’s spots in Princeton schools with children from Trenton. Then, instead of having parents chastise others about segregation, and generating ill will, they can instead lead by example and serve as an inspiration to everyone.

I also read Lori Weir’s letter about eliminating sibling preference at PCS [“N.J. Commissioner of Education Decision a Case of Taxation Without Representation,” March 8 Mailbox], which even PPS uses in their lottery-based dual-language immersion program. To get some facts about who would be most impacted if siblings were split across schools, I examined the Pew Research Center report on Parenting in America. Across the United States, 33 percent of Caucasian mothers had 3 or more children, and the numbers for other racial groups were Asian (27 percent), African-American (40 percent), and Hispanic (50 percent). If Princeton has similar demographic patterns, eliminating sibling preference would impact African-Americans and Hispanics more than other racial groups. In comparison, the weighted lottery approved for PCS will increase the chances for economically disadvantaged groups. Numerically, the calls to dismantle sibling preference seem counterproductive. In the longer term, neither sibling preference nor a lottery would be needed if PCS were allowed to expand to meet all of the demand for it.

Vivek Pai

Bertrand Drive

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