To the Editor:
Like some other taxpayers, I’ve been thinking about the Princeton-Cranbury agreement since learning of the upcoming facilities referendum. Initially, it seemed that if Princeton High School is significantly over capacity, then ending the send-receive relationship would be an option to consider, just on an available space basis — and nothing against the great Cranbury students, who have been attending since 1991 and are, by all accounts, valued members of our high school community.
At first glance, the idea sounds reasonable, and there’s been some talk about it online and in the papers.
The problem, though, as I’ve learned, is that it’s not nearly so simple as that.
Even if Princeton wished to unilaterally end the agreement, it is not up to Princeton. It would (solely) be up to the State of New Jersey.
The district wishing to end the relationship is required to pay for and submit a feasibility study to the State Commissioner of Education that must demonstrate no adverse impact to either district in terms of three factors: educational, financial, and racial composition. In other words, Cranbury would need to have someplace else for their 280 students to go that is as good or better than Princeton, for the same or lower cost, and without materially affecting overall student diversity. What’s more, there would need to be no negative effects on Princeton kids either.
So even if Princeton Public Schools (PPS) wished to end the agreement, Cranbury doesn’t, and the ultimate decision is not the call of PPS – it is, by law, exclusively the decision of the N.J. Department of Education. And if one party didn’t like how the State ruled, there could be lawsuits and appeals, and the whole thing could drag on for years with no operational change or resolution, just animosity and extra expense.
Look up all the issues in Englewood over the past three decades for how hard it is to break these unions, unless both parties want it and furthermore the State agrees. In fact, no receiving district has ever been able to unilaterally end such an agreement in 32 years of case law. Even in some cases where both districts wanted to split, the State still struck it down because of adverse impacts — in quality of education, financial terms, or racial balance — to the students of either or both districts (which is the State’s only concern).
Importantly, the State also sets the tuition that Cranbury pays Princeton, on a per-student basis, using audited financials. Last year, this amounted to $4.81 million, or about one-third of the total PPS discretionary budget.
So while on the face of it, attempting to sever (or not renew) the Cranbury send-receive relationship might seem a partial solution to help reduce overcrowding, it appears to be a non-starter. Presuming it were even feasible, PHS would nevertheless remain over its capacity of 1,423 students, even if Cranbury’s students were to depart gradually in the coming years.
All in all, our energies may be best spent in working to help the referendum encompass what is needed to make our students and teachers safe, secure, and comfortable in their schools. Let’s keep focusing on the “must-haves” and continue eschewing the “nice-to-haves,” in order to address the critical needs and infrastructure problems happening today in our schools.
The legal aspects of send-receive relationships were covered extensively at the public meeting on April 24th. See http://bit.ly/CranburyVideo for a replay of session, and http://bit.ly/CranburySlides for the presentation slides.
South Harrison Street