February 1, 2017

To the Editor:

We write to thank the mayor and Council for the strong action they have taken to address the issue of invasive species in our open space. A recent assessment of Princeton’s open space by Michael Van Clef of Ecological Solutions LLC found that of Princeton’s 720 acres of preserved open space, 291 acres were ranked “low” in ecological quality. In addition to familiar aggressive invasive plants like Multiflora Rose and Japanese Honeysuckle, 183 populations consisting of 10 emerging invasive species were found. The problem of invasive species in our open space is projected to worsen as we begin to lose ash trees as a result of the emerald ash borer infestation.

In December, Council passed a resolution recommending the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team Do Not Plant List (available at njisst.org). The resolution encourages local residents and landscapers to consult the Do Not Plant List and to refrain from using plants listed on it. It also asks that we consider planting native plants instead. The resolution directs the many departments of our local government that are involved with making planting decisions to utilize this list in planting decisions as well.

In order for our open spaces to serve as good habitat for native birds, butterflies, and other creatures, and to maintain their vital functions of capturing, retaining, and cleaning our water, we need to have native plants and a good level of biodiversity. We can support the town’s efforts through the decisions we make in our own gardens. We are also fortunate to have D&R Greenway Native Plant Nursery as a local resource.

Sophie Glovier

Drakes Corner Road

Heidi Fichtenbaum

Carnahan Place

Wendy Mager

Cherry Hill Road

To the Editor:

Whatever happens with the New Jersey Department of Education’s decision on the Princeton Charter School’s (PCS) request for expansion, I truly hope those in our community that “vigorously oppose” the application bring that same vigor and energy to ensuring that the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) are transparent and held accountable for their past fiscal decisions as well as those in the future.

I hope my friends and neighbors first get educated — be informed about the real challenges ALL public schools in New Jersey face in terms of funding. Dig into the details. Understand that there are no easy solutions. Then I hope they ask some tough questions. Why is the PPS cost per pupil 40 percent more than at PCS? What about the tax increase already authorized by PPS — how does that fit into the equation? How has PCS been able to meet rising costs despite flat funding for the past 5 years?

Obviously these types of questions can’t be answered with soundbites or headlines, but they do need to be openly discussed. Ultimately I hope that instead of blaming PCS for seemingly any and all fiscal woes, our community challenges PPS to make some of the same hard choices that PCS has been making for years — all while consistently being ranked among the highest performing schools in New Jersey (charter or otherwise).

Allan Williams

Crooked Tree Lane

To the Editor:

Our daughter studied at Westminster Conservatory in Princeton, Westminster Choir College’s Community School, for 11 years. We had no idea when she asked, at age six, to take piano lessons, that she was particularly talented.

It was the extraordinary teachers she encountered at Westminster who recognized and nurtured her musical gifts, helping her to develop into a true musician. She studied piano, music theory, and voice, and went on to receive three music scholarships when she applied to college.

The Conservatory is a jewel in the Princeton area. And yet, no mention of it has been made in the coverage I’ve read about saving the Choir College’s Princeton campus.

I wonder what will happen to the Conservatory program if Rider consolidates? It would be a serious loss to our community if Rider discontinued the Conservatory program in a “next step” to manage its financial situation.

According to the news reports, Westminster has thrived. It’s the “four other colleges that have significant problems in terms of enrollment.” Why not build UP and IMPROVE the colleges that aren’t attracting students, rather than dismantling the one that is thriving?

It also bears noting that the in-town location of the Choir College (and the Conservatory) serves the wider community, like McCarter Theatre and Richardson Auditorium, as a cultural arts center where music of a high caliber can be both supported and enjoyed.

Westminster has a long and distinguished history as part of the Princeton arts community. Rider should celebrate this gem, along with the community that supports it, and focus on fixing its under-performing schools to make its business model thrive.

Terri Epstein 

Pennington

To the Editor:

We are on the tail end of a presidential election where the one thing people can agree on is the negative way with which the process was managed and the division it caused for our country that will take years to heal. Immediately after, the Charter School surprised the town by applying for an expansion that impacts the rest of the school district’s funding. That was not fair. Various parties representing the school district fought back with very loud voices and a lawsuit. Also, not fair. We are putting our kids in the middle, dividing the town and creating a win-lose situation that will take years to mend. Sound familiar?

I remember reading the Town Topics article that came out when Steve Cochrane assumed the role as our superintendent and was impressed by his background. I have heard good things about his leadership since then. And we need big leadership now!

We need big leadership to teach our kids that partnering can lead to great outcomes for everyone, the loudest voice is not always the right one, and representing complicated situations with half-true sound bites is not the way to ‘win.’ My hope is that Mr. Cochrane can get the right people together to hash out a compromise that can be co-presented to the town and the state before it is too late. Thank you for representing all of the public school children of this town.

Rebecca Feder 

Mount Lucas Road, 

Parent of Charter School Kids 

(but that is beside the point)

To the Editor:

Perhaps it would be useful to remind ourselves of the origins of the charter school movement. It developed in response to the catastrophic failure of public schools in financially devastated communities, where there was no hope of a remedy in the students’ time there. Many books were written in the 60s and 70s detailing these school systems, describing appalling deprivations in every area of school life — facilities, programs, teacher-student ratios, special arts or other such offerings, special education. There was no toilet paper. Furniture was broken. Labs were nonexistent. Police roamed the corridors. Charter schools were intended to take children out of such schools and place them in fresh, new classrooms with qualified teachers, and give them a fighting chance. Some of these schools worked, some didn’t, and some don’t to this day. (See: Michigan.) A very good summary of this history by Diane Ravitch appears in a recent issue of The New York Review of Books.

But what charter schools were not intended to do was hand a gift of taxpayer money to parents in comfortable towns simply to build a school that pleases them. The public school system has for the most part been the backbone of our country for 200 years, and the Princeton school system is particularly good. If parents perceive imperfections, it is incumbent upon them to work with the school board and teachers to make improvements. If on the other hand a self-selected group of parents wishes to create an entirely different educational structure they are free to found a private school as others have done. What they may not do is strip funding from the public schools and use that money for their own ends, no matter how lofty they believe those ends to be.

Those who believe that the good experiences their children are having at PCS give them the right to run their own school miss the point. Taxpayer money should not be used for private endeavor. If this application succeeds, why not others? If one charter school group can have all the money it wants with no commanding relevance to the public good, so can any other group with an idea of its own.

I strongly urge the PCS group to understand that they are running a private school and should fund it themselves. Accepting special students and using an admissions lottery do not make up for the fact that the school is not serving an identified public need and is not answerable to the citizenry whose money PCS wants.

Casey Lambert 

North Road

To the Editor:

The teachers and administrators at John Witherspoon are an amazing group of people. They are the most important factor in making sure the school runs as smoothly as possible.

A perfect example of that is Principal Jason Burr. He stands in the hallways both before and after school, greeting all the students as they walk by. He comes to watch the sports events and performances, staying until almost everyone has left the building. He has a family, and yet he gives up so much of his time to making sure all the students, teachers, and staff at the school know how much he cares about all of them.

The teachers are extraordinary! They arrive early and stay late in order to be there for the students. Their classes are challenging, yet the workload is manageable, allowing the students to participate in other activities and enjoy time with their families.

The office staff at the school are always helpful and warm, making sure that a forgotten lunch or musical instrument finds its way to its owner.

The custodians keep the school clean and safe, even coming in on a snowy Sunday in order to clean the sidewalks after a performance of Annie to make sure that nobody would slip on the ice.

On top of the amazing classes and people, there are many different clubs and sports because John Witherspoon is a school designed to help students find what they love and give them a chance to pursue that passion.

John Witherspoon Middle School is more than just a middle school. It is a community, and we feel so blessed to have been able to go there.

Nandita Ammanamanchi, Taarika Bala, Charlie Biggs, Adrianos Karahalios, Irina Mukhametzhanova, Shravya Nandyala, Sarita Raghunath, Janki Raythattha, Elian Rubin, Raisa Rubin-Stankiewicz, Nick Trenholm, Myla Wailoo

Students at Princeton High School

To the Editor:

On Saturday January 21, the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action co-led a bus of approximately 55 people to Washington D.C., in collaboration with NJ Citizen Action. The march was energizing and exciting, unifying men and women across a variety of issues.

In addition to our bus, numerous individuals and organizations led several buses from Princeton. Our area was well-represented at both the national march in Washington, D.C., as well as “sister-marches” in Trenton, New York, and Philadelphia.

We look forward to continuing the momentum from Saturday and channeling this energy into positive peace initiatives. One key theme in all the marches was to “think globally, act locally.” For more information or to get involved with the Coalition for Peace Action, please feel free to contact me at edekranes@peacecoalition.org.

Erica DeKranes

Assistant Director, Coalition for Peace Action

To the Editor:

WOW! As HomeFront’s Week of Hope comes to an end, we are left full of awe and gratitude for all that was accomplished, all of the new friends we met along the way, and the renewed commitment of so many old friends.

The response to our Week of Hope was overwhelming. We experienced again what a wonderful caring community we live in. Over the course of ONE week, 237 new volunteers participated in 28 various volunteer opportunities and special education forums at 6 different locations across Mercer County.

Together, we organized our food pantry and prepared free food bags for homeless and vulnerable families. Together, we discussed the issues surrounding poverty and homelessness in an insightful conversation with leaders of social service agencies. Together, we assembled shelving for our newest service: HomeFront’s Diaper Pantry. Most importantly, together we built hope for families in need in our community.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Many individuals in our community refused to stay silent and generously contributed their time to make a difference for their neighbors in need. Most importantly, they gave our families hope during our Week of Hope — and beyond. We look forward to continuing the momentum with this inspiring support.

The Week of Hope may be over but our shared commitment to families in need is unending. They need you now more than ever!

Connie Mercer

Founder and CEO

Meghan Cubano

Community Engagement Manager

Liza Peck

Support Services Liaison 

January 18, 2017

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Dr. Ethan Schartman

Dodds Lane

———

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Juan Maldacena

Newlin Road

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Cliff Birge

Hunt Drive

To the Community:

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

Tom Hagedorn

Cherry Hill Road

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

JEAN YELOVICH DURBIN

Mt. Lucas Road

To the Editor:

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

It necessitates a careful look at the impacts on fund:

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

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

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

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

PAUL SUOZZO

Prospect Avenue

To the Editor:

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

Sadly, Jordan’s is gone.

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

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

STANLEY ROSENBERG, MD

Conifer Court

To the Editor:

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

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

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

MARVIN HAROLD CHEITEN

Meadowbrook Drive

To the Editor:

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

Marilyn Aronberg Lavin

Maxwell Lane

January 11, 2017

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim and Valerie Walker

Grasmere Way

———

To the Editor:

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

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

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

Anne Burns

Winding Way

Mia Cahill

Bayard Lane 

Molly Chrein

Ridgeview Road 

Rebecca Cox

Madison Street

Daniel Haughton

Finley Road

Martha Land

Westcott Road

Sue Nemeth

Bayard Lane

Afsheen Shamsi

William Patterson Court

Michele Tuck-Ponder

Laurel Circle

To the Editor:

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

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

Ruth Ochs

Conductor, Westminster Community Orchestra

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen K. Hiltner

North Harrison Sreet

To Mayor Liz Lempert and Princeton Council:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marina Rubina 

Quarry Street 

Yael Niv 

Franklin Avenue

January 4, 2017

To the Editor:

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

Mohan Viswanathan

Cherry Valley Road 

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To the Editor:

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

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

Smita Brunnermeier

Maclean Circle

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soul-filled Bowls Project Committee

Ceramics Studio, Arts Council of Princeton

December 28, 2016

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Anna Mendlin

Autumn Hill Road

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Clearwater

Governors Lane

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

The Princeton Building Department deserves high marks!!

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

Great job Princeton Government!

Robert C. Frantzen

Lambert Drive