February 22, 2017

To the Editor:

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

James Manganaro

Dodds Lane

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Amy Craft

Poe Road

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Hiltner

North Harrison Street

February 15, 2017

To the Editor:

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

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

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

Carrie Elwood

Poe Road

To The Editor:

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

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

Minnie Craig

Witherspoon Street

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Sinden

Ridgeview Circle 

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

February 8, 2017

To the Editor:

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

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

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

Peter Madison

Snowden Lane

To the Editor:

The controversy over the Princeton charter school application to expand its student enrollment by 76 students awakens old memories. I served on the Princeton school board from 1998-2001, a time when the mere idea of a charter school had become a divisive issue.

I know the kinds of emotions this issue can arouse and hope that we can minimize them this time around. They are not good for the community and most importantly not good for our children.

I see nothing nefarious in the Charter School’s desire to expand the school’s enrollment. It is perfectly natural if you believe in what your school is doing and you have a long waiting list.

Nevertheless, I am disturbed by the Charter School’s seemingly very narrow view of the School’s place in the larger community. Indeed, it seems to recognize no responsibility at all — at least that is what I take away from the statement of the president of the Charter School Board that defended the school’s application by noting that the fiduciary duty of the Board is to “our students and the financial viability of the school.”

That might be true as a legal matter but it is an unacceptably narrow view of the Charter School’s place in our community. I am not against charter schools. Indeed, our daughter worked for the KIP School organization before marriage and children. But I support it in its context as an element of our larger school system, one that plays a role but at a cost. And to pretend that the Charter School has no responsibility to consider the impact of its request on that larger community of taxpayers and public school parents undermines precisely the reason I believe charter schools have a useful role in the first place.

This application comes at a particularly sensitive time. The Princeton Council is wrestling with a $2 million budget gap and the School Board is facing challenges of its own. The mayor of Princeton and the president of the Princeton Regional School Board have both expressed their concerns about the size of this request. It does seem to be a rather large one; it would increase the Charter School’s size by more than 20 percent and would drain more than a $1 million dollars from the larger school system budget.

This is the kind of issue that should be amenable to compromise. But that can only happen if the Charter School Board recognizes that it is part of a mosaic, not a fortress on a hostile frontier. It is also incumbent on those who oppose charter schools in principle to recognize that this is not the context in which to re-litigate their legitimacy and that a modest expansion should be acceptable to all.

There is something else at stake in this controversy. Princeton likes to think of itself as a leader, a bit of a city upon a hill. But leadership is a matter of action, not words. In this case, leadership requires that Princeton figure this problem out for itself and not leave it up to the State Department of Education to declare a winner that will leave a portion of the community aggrieved.

I do know this. We decry the inability in Washington to resolve differences. Perhaps we can show them how it’s done.

Walter Frank

Riverside Drive

To the Editor:

I am a Princeton resident and the mother of two public school children. Six years ago, we moved to Princeton in large measure because of the high quality of the public schools. I myself am a product of New Jersey’s public education system (in Montclair), and I believe deeply in the promise of public schools to lift all members of our society through education and communal endeavor. I am writing today to urge my elected representatives to publicly oppose the Princeton Charter School’s (PCS) expansion request.

While I have no doubt that PCS is a wonderful, beloved school, I am gravely concerned about the effects its expansion would have on our town’s equally wonderful and beloved public schools. The expansion would take $1.16 million away from the Princeton Public Schools’ (PPS) budget, without lowering PPS’s expenses in any meaningful way. The Charter School argues that its expansion will reduce overcrowding in the public schools, but this is a canard, as PCS seeks to expand precisely in the grades (K through 2) in which the Princeton Public Schools do not experience overcrowding, leaving those grades in which crowding is a problem (6 through 12) untouched.

As I see it, the budgetary shortfall PCS’s expansion would create will have two significant, harmful effects on the education my children receive. First, obviously, it will reduce the funds available to support the schools we love. Teachers will be fired, programs will be cut, and class sizes — especially at the high school, which most PCS students eventually attend — will increase.

Second, more perniciously, it will erode our sense of community. When the funding decisions are being made, the lack of money will pit program against program, teacher against teacher, and families against families. The choices forced by a reduced pot of funding won’t result in efficiency; they’ll result in fights over critical resources, and anguished decisions that divide our population and weaken the sense of togetherness that is so crucial to our schools’ success. I witnessed the painful divisions created by the negotiation of the teachers’ contract two years ago; imagine how divisive such negotiations will be when all money raised by a tax increase goes straight to the Charter School, leaving nothing to cover cost increases for the rest of us?

Finally, a point of fairness: it is deeply troubling that an issue of such vital importance to all Princeton taxpayers is made not by Princeton voters, but by an appointed state official. When I went to the polls, I did not get to vote for the acting commissioner of education. Because I have no say in this decision, I hope that my elected representatives will speak out on my behalf, arguing loudly and forcefully against both an expansion that would severely harm our prized public schools and a funding system that takes away such a critical democratic right from their constituents. I commend Princeton’s town council for having recently done so, and I urge my state representatives to do the same.

Jane Manners

Wheatsheaf Lane

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Are we taking full advantage of other area resources?

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

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

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

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

Kenneth Verbeyst

Princetonian, Caldwell Drive

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

Pam Gregory

President and CEO, Princeton-Blairstown Center

February 1, 2017

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Marc and Alta Malberg

Autumn Hill Road

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 


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.


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.


Prospect Avenue