April 5, 2017

To the Editor:

Community discourse should always be respectful and compassionate: we all want the best for our kids. In the past months, much of the discussion around the expansion of the Princeton Charter School (PCS) has centered on the lack of diversity at PCS. While an unrepresentative student body is something that should be corrected, it seems to me that this issue has been blown out of proportion, to the point of tearing apart the fabric of our community. PCS parents and children are not racist, and the Princeton Public School (PPS) community would oppose the expansion even if PCS had been diverse. Let us not pretend that this is the issue at the heart of the disagreement, and let us not label and shame anyone in the community unfairly.

Many issues are at stake — the oversight of a school by an elected board and the ability of the community to democratically decide on how taxpayer money is used on the one hand, and giving families and children in our community a choice of schools on the other hand. In October 2015, Superintendent Steve Cochrane and the PPS district screened the excellent documentary Beyond Measure to a full auditorium of community members: teachers, parents, and students. The point of the movie was well taken: children are not made from a mold, and there is no one-size-fits-all school that is best for everybody. Even public schools that ranks extremely high in the state and country (as ours are) can sometimes, for a variety of reasons, be a poor fit for a child. Whether the alternative should be a charter school, a magnet school, or easier cross-enrollment in schools that one is not zoned for, it is good to have alternatives. Rather than calling others names and tearing up friendships, it would be great if we could all engage in kind, compassionate, and productive discourse about what alternatives are needed and what needs are not met by our public schools, and find ways to meet these needs while maintaining our excellent schools and respecting the democratic process.

These are very stressful and polarizing times. The PCS expansion is an important issue, but we should not allow it to divide us just at a time when we need to be united to fight much more significant threats to our society and democracy. It is all too easy to succumb to the (social-media facilitated) temptation to dehumanize others, but this is ultimately a losing strategy for everyone.

Yael Niv 

Franklin Avenue

To Superintendent Cochrane:

On behalf of Not in Our Town Princeton, we are writing to thank you for your letter addressing the public use of a racial slur by a white Princeton High School student about her fellow African American students. Your immediate, unqualified, public response made a clear statement to students and parents that this behavior is reprehensible and will not be tolerated in the schools.

We also applaud the vision you provide and the steps that are being taken to address seriously the racism that permeates our society. We appreciate that you mentioned the racial literacy programs Not in Our Town, among other organizations, have created and want to assure you that our members are ready to offer assistance and support for these efforts in the Princeton Public Schools. We believe strongly that the understanding that can be gained through racial literacy is critical for a just society. We hope that all members of the school community — students, faculty, staff, and parents — participate in this work that will benefit themselves, our community, and our nation. We encourage you to continue to be as proactively transparent as possible about the district’s ongoing plans to address racism. As a community, we need to be able to offer clear evidence of support to the students whose sense of safety is at risk.

Shelley Krause, 

Linda Oppenheim, Ted Fetter

Not in Our Town

cc: Board of Education members, 

Principal Gary Snyder, PHS PTO presidents

To the Editor:

Governor Christie has an opportunity to honor the struggles many of our veterans and their families face when they come home. The Wounded Warrior Caregiver Relief Act (S750), is awaiting the governor’s signature. This program would provide a modest state income tax credit for eligible, unpaid family caregivers, providing critical support for our Wounded Warriors who served in the military on or after the 911 terrorist attacks.

According to a recent AARP report, the vast majority of caregivers spend approximately $7,000 out of their own pockets each year to care for their loved ones. Caregivers support their families lovingly but could use some help. Without our army of unpaid family caregivers, our healthcare system would collapse.

We all must do our part to support our veterans. AARP is urging Governor Christie to do his part now us by signing this bill into law.

Cassandra Arnold

AARP New Jersey, Princeton

March 29, 2017

To the Editor:

Thank you for highlighting the annual Bryn Mawr-Wellesley Book Sale held at Princeton Day School in the March 22 edition of Town Topics [book review, page 15]. For the last two years, the Princeton-Blairstown Center and other charities have been able to take advantage of a wonderful benefit afforded to local non-profits that allows us to obtain boxes of age-appropriate books for free on the last day of the sale. What an incredible opportunity!

This year we were able to select five boxes of books that will be given to low-income students who are served in our Summer Bridge Program, a program designed to help stem the summer learning loss for more than 200 students in Mercer County. Research indicates that “the best predictor of summer loss or summer gain is whether or not a child reads during the summer … research shows that public library use among poor children drops off when a library is more than six blocks from their home, compared with more than two miles for middle-class children.” This is one of many reasons why low-income students show an average loss in reading achievement over the summer, while middle-income students show an average gain.

Thank you to everyone at the Bryn Mawr-Wellesley Book Sale and Princeton Day School for providing critical resources to help young people from low-income neighborhoods stem reading loss and broaden their world view.

Pam Gregory

President and CEO, Princeton-Blair

To the Editor:

While most Princeton residents have been busy going about their daily business and shoveling snow, two Princeton entities which declare ‘financial sustainability’ as an important goal have been focused on the significantly less sustainable objective of raising our property taxes yet again. Princeton Council has introduced an ordinance to exceed the New Jersey municipal property tax increase cap with up to a 3.5 percent tax increase (the original estimate was 6 percent!) and the Princeton School Board just voted for a $95 million budget that includes a 4.7 percent increase.

The school budget represents about 50 percent of our property tax bills and the municipality about 22 percent. If the remaining components of property tax increase by the same amount, the tax bill for the average house in Princeton could go up by $500 to $1,000. Neither governing entity appears to be capable of the sort of budgetary and fiscal responsibility that would lead to financial sustainability.

While the municipality is to hear public comment at the Council meeting on March 27 at 7 p.m., the School Board has avoided the former practice of local taxpayers voting on the school budget by moving school elections from the spring to the November ballot, thereby removing the nuisance of having to obtain specific public approval of the budget.

Both the Princeton municipal budget and the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) budget have common problems: they are bloated with salary, benefits, and pension expenses and weighted down with significant debt service payments. In proposing tax increases, both groups are also depending upon waivers to increase their budgets well above New Jersey caps.

In its tradition of deflecting responsibility for constantly rising school taxes, this year the PPS Board has found a convenient scapegoat — The Princeton Charter School.

New Jersey property taxes are already double the national average and based on the lack of local fiscal restraint, no relief of any kind appears to be on the horizon for Princeton. From 2012, the last year before consolidation, until 2016, our average total property taxes went from $15,000/$16,000 (Borough/Township) to over $18,000. This rate of growth of the already highest property taxes in the nation is NOT sustainable. Last year, the NJBIA released the results of a study entitled “Outmigration by the Numbers, How do We Stop the Exodus?” It noted that between 2004 and 2013, over 2,000,000 people left New Jersey, taking over $18 billion in net adjusted gross income with them. The exodus spans all age groups, with millennials leaving in droves as well as the wealthy (who can afford to move). The reasons for leaving are always the same: higher property taxes, more regulation, and budgetary excess. As a result of outmigration, revenues are down as well.

Apparently, our local elected officials and school board plan to continue supporting the exodus.

Dudley Sipprelle

Nassau Street

Letter to the Editor:

Over the past few weeks, I enjoyed seeing all the ads from the day and residential camp programs that help young people develop a vast array of skills that include cooking, skateboarding, gardening, traditional sports, STEM skills, swimming, acting, writing, directing, coding, and more. I wish I were young again and able to take advantage of these opportunities.

Unfortunately, there are children from low-income communities who have their whole lives ahead of them but who have fewer opportunities to participate in programs like these. Research points to the substantial gulf in spending on children’s enrichment and extracurricular activities, depending on economic strata. Those with higher disposable incomes are investing more heavily to enhance their childrens’ experiences and education, while other children must make do with far less. Research also shows that low-income students experience more summer learning loss than their higher income peers, partly because they are less likely to participate in summer learning programs.

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, which comprises Fortune 500 business leaders and progressive educators, the “3Rs” educators focused on for the past 150 years have been joined if not overtaken in importance by “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical-thinking. These skills are also vitally important for success in the new world of work. We should welcome, encourage, and support those summer programs that teach these skills.

For the past 25 years, I have been deeply involved with the Princeton-Blairstown Center, an organization that was founded 109 years ago by Princeton University undergraduates. The Center provides high-quality summer experiences free of charge to young people from low-income communities. During the upcoming summer, we will provide, for example, 200 young people from Trenton with enriching and educational experiences that are usually reserved for their more affluent peers against whom they will be competing for jobs. I urge everyone in our community to support evidenced-based programs like ours. Programs that teach critical social-emotional skills like communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration and which help to reduce learning losses over the summer. Our kids’ futures depend on it. Come to think of it, so do ours.

Mark L. Antin, Esq.

Adams Drive, Former Board Chair 

and Current Trustee, Princeton-Blairstown Center

To the Editor:

More than a decade ago a detailed proposal for an assisted-living facility on the one-time “greenbelt” lot between the Princeton Shopping Center and Terhune Road was presented, thoroughly considered, and rejected by Township Committee. Grounds for the rejection were not made public, to my recollection, but two of the principal objections had been the small size of the lot for such a facility and the disadvantageous location — from the perspective of presumably frail and marginally ambulatory elderly residents — immediately adjacent to the shopping center parking lot. In this past Saturday’s mail our household received a “Current Resident” mailing from an entity representing itself as “Sunrise Senior Living” which invited the recipients to a meeting at which “We will discuss our plans to provide high-quality assisted living and memory care services in the heart of Princeton (near Princeton Shopping Center).” The long-ago applicant whose plans were turned down had a similar but not identical corporate name and logo, to the best of my recollection.

The only plot of land “near Princeton Shopping Center” that seems to qualify for housing the described services appears to me to be the one for which such use was rejected the first time it was proposed. It is startling to be abruptly informed that the current developer has reached a state in his planning that suggests he is newly encouraged to feel that the site will now be approved. I have seen no mention of such a proposal in Town Topics or elsewhere, nor of a zoning change that would make such a project acceptable. The lot — my memory claims — is between 900 and 1200 feet long parallel to Terhune and 150 feet deep from Terhune to the shopping center parking lot, or
between about 3 to 4 inconveniently-shaped acres. It was not only rejected previously by the Township for the proposed use, it was “promised” by the original shopping center applicants in the 1950s that it would be maintained as a “green” buffer zone between the shopping center and the surrounding area.

My own frail, elderly, and marginally ambulatory status makes it effectively impossible for me to participate in meetings or other activities related to this proposal, and my wife’s situation is no better than mine. Intensive coverage in the future by Town Topics and attention from interested residents who are younger and more resilient than we are appear to offer our best hope that this apparently-re-proposed departure from previous practice and long-ago commitments will not be permitted.

John Strother

Grover Avenue

To the Editor:

Our family started the Curbside Composting Program two years ago after learning about it from a neighbor. Honestly, we were nervous that the change would be difficult and inconvenient. In fact, transitioning to composting was very easy! We keep the small container on the counter next to the kitchen sink; this holds a three gallon compostable bag that neatly collects our daily food scrapings, tea bags, coffee filters, paper towels. Every night this is the damp, compostable waste that gets put out in the Green Organics Cart. Our regular kitchen garbage can now go several days without needing to be taken out. So easy! To minimize cost we order the Biobags in bulk on the internet. The large Green Organics Cart is collected curbside every Wednesday and is convenient for adding sticks and other yard waste … and all those pizza boxes! We are only one family, but it makes us happy to know we are generating less landfill garbage.

If you are not already, please consider joining the Princeton Curbside Organics Program. Details can be found on the municipal website, www.princetonnj.gov.

The Linko Family

Dodds Lane

To the Editor:

I am puzzled by the discrepancy between Dr. Julia Sass Rubin’s measured public statements on evolving Princeton Charter School (PCS) demographics and the charges of segregation espoused by Keep PPS Strong. The latter’s charges are rooted in a misrepresentation of Dr. Rubin’s data, which they publicly stated were supplied to them by her. I attended Dr. Rubin’s presentation on January 11, hosted by Superintendent Cochrane in the JWMS auditorium. Responding to questions about why PCS enrollment of low-income students declined precipitously in ’08-’09, she quite clearly stated that a number of factors could be responsible such as the recession, families becoming wealthier, etc. She was quite clear that the data she had was insufficient to test these hypotheses. In a private communication four days later, I suggested the recession caused a “disruption in peer recruitment.” She responded this was “feasible” but did not have “[data] to go on.” At no point did she suggest that it might be the result of deliberate policy.

In contrast to Dr. Rubin’s remarks, Keep PPS Strong’s opposition to PCS has coalesced around the accusation that the decline in low-income student enrollment is the desired result of “inequitable, racist policies.” Those words are Cara Carpenito’s, but her March 8 letter to Town Topics was reproduced without comment on the group’s Facebook page, as was the Latino Coalition’s press release for its federal civil rights complaint (which references Dr. Rubin’s data), and of course the replication of many of Dr. Rubin’s PCS slides with the tag #publiclyfundedsegregation.

Since Dr. Rubin’s work is a cornerstone to the opposition to PCS espoused by Keep PPS Strong, I would like to know why she has allowed the group to replace her well-reasoned concerns about the demographic effects of the expansion with such egregious speculation?

Ethan Schartman

Dodds Lane

March 22, 2017

To the Editor:

As I join our community and my colleagues at the Princeton Public Library in preparing for the grand reopening of the library’s second floor on Saturday, March 25, I want to take a moment to thank the Princeton University Library for its generous partnership in serving our cardholders during our renovation. We were committed to remaining open throughout the renovation and to offering the easiest possible access to the collection while the second floor was closed to the public. Princeton University Library made that possible by offering us storage, at no charge, in their facilities and supporting our efforts to page books upon request. This was a significant service to our cardholders, making the 30,000 volumes in the library’s adult nonfiction collection available typically within just a day or two after we received a request.

Princeton University Library’s generosity also allowed my colleagues to spend the last several months completing an ambitious and innovative reorganization of the collection into “neighborhoods,” a new system that combines the best of bookstore organizational systems with the best of our tried and true Dewey Decimal System. We have invested a tremendous amount of time, attention, and our collection budget into ensuring that the books in the collection meet the needs of this community, and we are excited to share the reorganized adult nonfiction collection with everyone when we reopen the floor. We have never had a collection that was more likely to exceed everyone’s expectations and we have never before been able to make specific titles easier or more appealing to browse or find. The collection itself has never looked better, and we could not have completed this vital work without our friends and colleagues at the Princeton University Library.

I look forward to seeing everyone at the ribbon cutting at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 25, and during the day-long celebration that will follow.

Brett Bonfield

Executive Director, Princeton Public Library

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

Kip Cherry

Dempsey Avenue

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

Gregory Stankiewicz

Jefferson Road

To The Editor:

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

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

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

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

Jenny Ludmer

Caldwell Drive

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Audrey Chen

Linwood Circle

To the Editor:

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

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

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

Carol Williams

Crooked Tree Lane

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne Desmond

Tee-Ar Place

March 15, 2017

To the Editor:

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

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

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

Dina Shaw

Clover Lane

To the Editor:

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

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

Vivek Pai

Bertrand Drive

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liz Winslow

Dodds Lane

To the Editor:

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

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

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

Chris Coucill and Liz Fillo

Constitution Hill West

March 8, 2017

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Sass Rubin

Jefferson Road

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Lori Weir

Stuart Road East

To the Editor:

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

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

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

Cara Carpenito

Maple Street

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynn Collins

56-year resident, Little Rocky Hill

To the Editor:

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

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

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

Diane M. Landis

Wheatsheaf Lane