To the Editor:
We are writing in response to the letters from parents of Princeton Charter School (PCS) students in support of its expansion. Parents writing to local press advocating expansion often focus solely on what a good school Charter is and how great it’s been for their children. The debate here is not and has never been about whether or not PCS is a good school. No one is asking PCS to close and nothing is lost by PCS if the school does not expand.
We think that it is important to simplify the point of the debate: can PPS (Princeton Public Schools) afford to hand over $1.2 million of taxpayer dollars without negative effect on the other 3,700 students PPS is obliged to educate? No, it can’t. Just simple, uncomplicated arithmetic. (We will skip over the second debate here, with regard to the broken governance that allows this to happen at all. PPS, with it’s elected board, being asked to hand over $1.2 million of taxpayer’s money to another, un-elected and unaccountable school board).
The arguments that expansion of PCS would “save the district money” and that it “costs less to educate a PCS student than a PPS student” are specious. Simply removing the cost associated with special needs children does NOT render this an “apples-to-apples” comparison. Please refer to the work done by Dr. Julia Sass Rubin, professor with the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, available on the Facebook Keep PPS Strong site.
We will offer two other significant costs that last week’s writer did not consider in the “apples-to-apples” comparison: the cost of running a high school, (Charter does not have one) and the cost of Princeton Public Schools ESL (English as a Second Language) program, (Charter serves 0 students in this category). Just two examples of several other factors needed to make a complete and fair comparison of per student cost.
Hopefully, the expansion will not happen and our school district will not be weakened. The high school is particularly vulnerable and if our class sizes surge and/or we lose programs, we risk slipping in our state and national rankings. Not a stretch to understand property values could thereby go down. All of which should be of concern to PCS parents, as 90 percent of their PCS graduates end up at PHS. Also of concern to any Princeton property owner. This is not just a school issue.
We enjoy the hugely diverse demographics of Princeton Public Schools. We would be glad to see PCS implement the weighted lottery system next year under any circumstances. We are disappointed to see that PCS had lost ground on socio-economic diversity, with only 1.4 percent of students being of low income for this school year as compared to 11 percent in 1990. Even at double weighting, this is still a lottery. PCS should do all it can to enroll AND retain these most worthy students, in an effort to truly be the “no child left behind” school referenced in last week’s Letter to the Editor.
Jim and Valerie Walker
To the Editor:
We, the undersigned, have all served Princeton as elected public officials, and we understand the critical importance of transparency, democratic representation, and accountability to the community whose tax dollars fund our public assets. The Princeton Charter School trustees’ application to expand the Princeton Charter School by 76 students, at a yearly cost of at least $1.16 million dollars, apparently was planned by the charter school trustees without any notice to or input from the Princeton Public Schools or the greater Princeton community, which is responsible for funding this expansion if approved. Forcing the Princeton school district to pay an additional $1.16 million annually to the charter school, plus even more in transportation costs, will be devastating to our public schools. These increased costs to the public school district would consume most of its entire allowed 2 percent yearly budget increase.
We are all proud of our excellent, open enrollment public schools, ranked among the best in the nation. The Princeton public schools represent generations of taxpayer investment, are our town’s most valuable public assets, and the foundation of strong property values. If this expansion is approved by the state Commissioner of Education, it will surely and irreparably erode the quality and value of these public assets — and negatively impact the 3700 children who now attend the public schools.
The nine private citizens on the charter school trustees board are not democratically elected by our community. Although they are required to comply with the same transparency requirements as our elected school board and town council are, the trustees’ meetings don’t seem to be properly noticed, and their meeting minutes are often not published for months. The trustees themselves have said the expansion proposal is the result of “months of careful planning,” yet few, if any, public records reflect this. Our duly-elected public officials and the entire community only learned of the proposal less than 2 days before its filing. The charter school trustees’ secretive decision-making process, and the unfairly sudden announcement of their proposal, compound the anti-democratic, unjust nature of their harmful expansion proposal. The Princeton community and our children deserve better. For these reasons the Princeton Charter School trustees should withdraw their expansion proposal.
William Patterson Court