June 3, 2015

Threats made in recent weeks to local schools, the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, Quaker Bridge Mall, a private business and residence have local law enforcement scrambling to determine who is behind these pre-recorded messages. While each case so far has been deemed a hoax, police are taking no chances.

“This is an absolutely despicable crime that is targeting the most precious of our society С our children,” said Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter, on Monday. “It is certainly causing fear among schools and families. We are working with federal and state agencies, and have top experts partnering with us, and we will not stop until the threats stop and these people are brought to justice.”

The threats have increased across New Jersey in recent weeks. “I don’t use this word often, but from my perspective it certainly is an act of terrorism,” Mr. Sutter said. “It causes fear, has economic repercussions, and makes people afraid to go to public places. It’s quite serious in all of its ramifications.”

Last month, John Witherspoon Middle School, Riverside Elementary School, Johnson Park Elementary, and Princeton High School were each the target of threats, known as “swatting” because they draw a heightened response from a SWAT team. After thorough investigations by law enforcement, no suspicious activity was found at any of the schools.

On May 27, the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro was put in lockdown after an automated phone call to New Jersey State Police said there were gunmen in the hospital and parking lot. A “code silver” was issued and there were rumors that someone had been taken hostage because of the alert, but no suspicious activity was found by state and Plainsboro police.

A day later, shoppers at Quaker Bridge Mall were evacuated for two hours after a call came in from what appeared to be a computer-generated voice. K-9 units from the New Jersey State Police, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office, and the Princeton Police Department searched but did not find any explosive devices.

Similar hoaxes have taken place in recent years, but the current threats are different. “I’ve been doing a lot of research on this, and it’s been going on for some time,” said Mr. Sutter. “This takes the old-fashioned type of bomb threat that we’ve dealt with forever to a new level. It’s a huge public safety concern. I’ve seen it before, but this is something new.”

The police are working with other agencies to try and teach the public how to best deal with the phoned-in threats. “What we’ve been suggesting to the community, merchants, and the schools is that when a call comes in or is suspected, it’s important to remember specifics,” Mr. Sutter said. “Record the information that is given, the phone number, the information that comes up on the caller ID, and the sound of the voice, and give that information to the police department.”

Some two dozen threats in all have been documented in New Jersey over the past year. Among the targeted locations were schools in Holmdel, Ridgewood, and Farmingdale, as well as the Garden State Mall. The Office of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been aiding the New Jersey State Police and municipal police departments such as Princeton in investigating the incidents.

“We know that there are towns nationwide that are getting these, so that’s certainly an avenue we’re examining,” Mr. Sutter. “We’re working with different agencies, comparing all the data, and that’s definitely helpful in several ways. I’m confident that we’ll get to the bottom of it. It’s just really hurtful and has tremendous repercussions for the community.”


A persistent drizzle couldn’t dampen the spirits of the 1,268 undergraduates and 885 graduate students awarded degrees at Princeton University’s 268th Commencement Tuesday. Held, following tradition, on the lawn in front of Nassau Hall, the ceremony also included the awarding of honorary degrees to artist and social activist Harry Belafonte; the University’s Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, David Billington; retired U.S. Army general Ann Dunwoody; former New Jersey Supreme Court justice Deborah Poritz; retired associate justice of the Supreme Court John Paul Stevens; and Peruvian novelist and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. (Photo by Eric Quiñones Courtesy of Princeton University, Office of Communications)

May 28, 2015

Members of the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood are asking members of the public to join them on Saturday, May 30, from 9:30 a.m. at the  First Baptist Church of Princeton at the intersection of Paul Robeson Place and John Street. On the agenda for discussion are the following topics: Affordable Housing, Historic Neighborhood Designation, Communiversity: Saturday or Sunday?, Consolidation: Positive/Negative?

A continental breakfast will be available.

May 27, 2015

Reunions Weekend gets off to a spirited start Thursday evening when activist Ralph Nader is presented with the inaugural Princeton AlumniCorps Award for Civic Engagement. The honor is to be bestowed during the 25th Anniversary Gala Celebration of the organization at the Westin Princeton. More than 250 alumni are expected to attend.

The award recognizes those who have made significant contributions to civic life and inspired others to pursue public interest work. Mr. Nader, a member of Princeton University class of 1955, was a founder with other members of his class of the Princeton Project, now named Princeton AlumniCorps, in 1989. The organization was started as an independent nonprofit dedicated to connecting students and recent graduates to public interest jobs.

“In Ralph Nader, we have chosen a civic leader whose many accomplishments include inspiring the creation of the first independent organization of alumni dedicated to the public interest.” said Andrew Nurkin, Executive Director of Princeton AlumniCorps. “The spirit of engagement inspired by Ralph Nader continues to drive change in Princeton’s campus culture and provide alumni of all ages with experience and training for civic leadership.”

At Thursday’s event, the keynote speaker will be Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of New America. She will join in a conversation with Princeton University Professor Stan Katz on public service and higher education.

From 1993 to 1997, Princeton graduate Michelle Obama served as a Project 55 mentor in Chicago. In a letter of congratulations to Project 55, the first lady wrote, “My time with Princeton Project 55 helped me to understand that having access to and encouragement toward service can have a profound effect not only on the arc of a career, but also on the strength of our communities.”

Renamed PrincetonAlumniCorps in 2010, the organization has placed more than 1,500 graduates in one-year public interest positions through the Project 55 Fellowship Program.The model has been emulated by more than 30 other alumni groups, including Harvard, Stanford, and Bucknell universities.

 More recently, AlumniCorps has added programs that support alumni through a lifetime of service. The Emerging Leaders program trains early-career nonprofit managers to be future heads of nonprofit organizations. The ARC Innovators program connects alumni with significant career experience to pro bono projects at nonprofits across the US. With more than 1600 program alumni and a network of more than 500 nonprofit partners across the country, Princeton AlumniCorps is committed to growing and engaging multiple generations of civic leaders.

HACKING AWAY: At the Princeton Public Library, on June 6 and 7, the first Code for Princeton Civic Hackathon will use technology to help come up with new ideas and solutions for the town, and maybe beyond. A brainstorming session preceding the Hackathon takes place this Sunday, May 31, at the library.

HACKING AWAY: At the Princeton Public Library, on June 6 and 7, the first Code for Princeton Civic Hackathon will use technology to help come up with new ideas and solutions for the town, and maybe beyond. A brainstorming session preceding the Hackathon takes place this Sunday, May 31, at the library.

You don’t have to be a technology expert to take part in the Code for Princeton Civic Hackathon at Princeton Public Library June 6 and 7. All are welcome — even technophobes. You just have to be interested in building solutions for the local community.

“We’re using technology to help us address some of our problems,” says Mayor Liz Lempert, who has been enthusiastically plugging the event in recent weeks. “The idea is to get a new perspective on some of the issues we face as a municipality and are grappling with as a community. We’re looking at the issues through a different lens, bringing in residents who might not be typically engaged. This is a way to get some fresh eyes on some issues.”

The two-day event is part of the June 6 National Day of Civic Hacking, organized by Code for America. Princeton’s Hackathon is a collaboration between Code for Princeton, the Municipality of Princeton, and the library. Using publicly released data, technology, and design processes, participants will collaborate on projects in areas including renewable and sustainable energy, politics and elections, volunteerism and civic participation, environmental and geospatial data, and cycling and transportation.

“It has been held in many other cities,” said Ms. Lempert, who will hold a pre-Hackathon brainstorming session this Sunday at the library from 3-4 p.m. “It’s really a fun, community event. We’ve all been doing some prep work. On our end, we’re putting together big data sets in a format that people can use. The idea is that these would be posted online for people to use during the Hackathon, and afterwards. It’s part of our effort to be more open and transparent, not just sharing information but doing it in a way that’s going to be usable.”

Everyone is welcome at the Hackathon, but space is limited. The event begins at noon on Saturday, June 6 with a coffee hour and team formation. Following a keynote address by Major League Hacking Chief Executive Officer Mike Swift, Ms. Lempert will officially kick off the session, which continues through midnight. Hacking will resume at 8 a.m. Sunday with submissions due by 11 a.m.

Also planned for Saturday are programming classes for children. My Robotic Friends is for grades 1-5 at 1:30 p.m., and Scratch Programming is geared to grades 6-8 at 3 p.m. There will be space for hardware aficianados. For updates on workshops, speakers, and other events, visit codeforprinceton.org.

The brainstorming session this Sunday, May 31 is designed to discover what problems people want programmers and hackers to work on during the following weekend’s event. “Some might relate to the data sets we’ve put together, and some to sets we’ll still need to put together,” Ms. -Lempert said. “Depending on what the information is, we might be able to scramble and get something up and running for use during the Hackathon. Or it might just be a good idea we’ll work on.”

University professors, high school students, and other computer buffs are excited about the event. “In an ideal situation, we end up with an idea for an app that could be really great not just for Princeton, but for other towns around the country,” Ms. Lempert said. “In coming months, we can look into potentially developing it. But even if we don’t get a usable product, just having lots of residents engage with this data and come together can lead to ideas and solutions and to new perspectives”

Sponsors are hoping the Hackathon will be the first of more to be held in the future. Originally, the event was planned for April, but it coincided with one that Princeton University was holding. “It has generated a lot of excitement,” Ms. Lempert said. “One of the things I love about it is that it has already brought new people to the table who hadn’t been involved in the past.”

There will be prizes awarded for notable efforts — nothing fancy, though. “When hackathons first started, they would attract people to participate by offering big prizes,” Ms. Lempert said. “But fortunately for us, people seem to be moving away from that. It’s more for the camaraderie and the community. So I might take some of the winning teams out for ice cream.”

The Princeton Health Department wants to remind residents that rabies infected wildlife continues to pose a risk to people and pets. Rabies is almost always 100 percent fatal once a person or animal begins to show symptoms. Protecting pets by keeping them current on their rabies vaccine is an important buffer between wildlife rabies and human exposure. Indoor animals should also be vaccinated as rabid bats are frequently discovered by pets in the home.

“Princeton had the highest number of animals testing positive for rabies in Mercer County in 2014,” said the town’s health officer Jeffrey Grosser, adding that cats as well as dogs should be vaccinated. “Not only does the vaccine keep your pet safe, but it can help keep you and your family safe as well,” he said.

To protect themselves and their pets, residents should avoid wildlife and animals you do not know, keep pets on a leash, never feed or touch stray animals, teach children to tell you if they are scratched or bitten by an animal, and call the doctor and local health department if bitten or exposed to saliva or blood. Also, contact your veterinarian if your pet was exposed to a bat, raccoon, skunk, or other wild carnivore. Perform a 360-degree “walk-around” of your home, looking for openings in the exterior bats can use as an entry. Openings should be closed only after it is determined no bats are inside the home or the attic.

Dogs and cats are not considered immunized until 28 days after receiving an initial rabies vaccination, so they should not be left outdoors unattended. Every year, 30,000 to 40,000 Americans are potentially exposed to rabies, requiring costly and uncomfortable human rabies post-exposure prophylaxis. For more information, call the Princeton Health Department at (609) 497-7608.

Following the May 19 incident in which Princeton Police responded to a residence on Jefferson Road concerning a computerized threat made against its occupants, the department released the statement printed below. The Jefferson Road threat was phoned in to police headquarters and was a computer-generated voice. Police officers at the scene found the residence to be secure and the threat unfounded. The residents were not at home at the time. The threat was similar in nature to other recent threats received in Princeton and other areas throughout the state and country. Princeton detectives continue to investigate the source of these threats.


“Over the last several weeks our police department, our public schools, private residences and local businesses have received generalized threats that appear to be computer generated by the perpetrator(s). These threats have been general in nature and indicate an imminent threat to those to whom they are directed. Each threat received a full police response and subsequent investigation. In each case the threats were determined to be unfounded and deemed a hoax.

Our department learned early on in these investigations that we are one of several communities statewide and many communities nationwide that are receiving similar threats. We believe that all of our incidents are connected to each other as well as connected to the other state and national investigations. We are currently coordinating investigative efforts to determine the source of the threats with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies including the Office of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New Jersey State Police. We are also working closely with our local educational partners to maintain a safe and secure environment for our students and faculty.

We will continue to communicate any future incidents through our alert systems and the media. We ask all community members to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity immediately by dialing 9-1-1.”

On June 7, the University Medical Center of Princeton (UMCP) will host a special celebration dedicated to those who have survived cancer. Vince Papale, a survivor who became a member of the Philadelphia Eagles and whose journey was portrayed in the film Invincible, will be the keynote speaker. Survivors, family members and friends, and anyone whose life has been touched by cancer, are invited to the event, which is called “Celebrate Strength, Celebrate Life” and will be held from 9 a.m. to noon in the Edward & Marie Matthews Center for Cancer Care at UMCPP, 1 Plainsboro Road. Breakfast, music, chair massages, and activities for children will be part of the day. Mr. Papale will speak from 10 to 10:30 a.m. followed by a question-and-answer session. Admission is free but registration is required at (888) 897-8979 or www.princetonhcs.org/calendar.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA-NJ) has recognized ikon.5 Architects of Princeton with a merit award in the built open category in recognition of its work on The E.J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University.

ikon.5 Architects designed the project as a glass and steel academic village with the goal of expressing forward-thinking business education for the post-Katrina Gulf South. The design team constructed the building with contemporary materials including artistic, ceramic-coated mirror glass, and a bronze solar screen covering the project’s rotunda. The courtyard plan and building forms are contextual, recalling the sloped roof pavilions and arcaded courtyards of the adjacent 89-year-old campus, while the innovative glass technology communicates a forward looking enterprise.

“The building is an exceptionally well-designed and unique architectural solution that will meet the educational demands of students entering rigorous business fields, and also allows for free-flowing, creative thought,” said Kimberly Bunn, AIA, president of AIA-NJ. “ikon.5 demonstrated a high level of expertise in creating the design for this academic complex. Their work is clearly deserving of the merit award with which they were recognized, and the faculty and students of LSU will be the beneficiaries of this forward-looking design for years to come.”

Located at Nicholson Drive Extension, Baton Rouge, Louisiana the building houses 167,000 square feet of state of the art academic facilities including 24 interactive tiered classrooms, 18 collaborative team rooms, a 300-seat auditorium and a mock trading room. Additionally, faculty and department offices surround the landscaped courtyard.

“We’re extremely proud of this significant honor,” said Joseph G. Tattoni, FAIA, Principal of ikon.5 Architects. “The university was looking for a building design that would align with its mission of generating innovation in business education for the southern part of the country. We managed to create a design that meets this vision, while paying homage to the campus’s storied history.”




It was the best of times, it was the worst of crimes. The Princeton Triangle Show returns to McCarter Theatre’s stage for two performances of “An Inconvenient Sleuth” on Friday, May 29 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, May 30 at 7 p.m. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Clarke Music

PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov (second from left) and Board President David Tierno presented Melanie Clarke with an oil painting on stage at Richardson Auditorium. In honor of Ms. Clarke’s 25 years of service as the executive director, The Melanie Clarke Fund was established in her honor with an initial commitment of $200,000 from the orchestra’s board of trustees.

Harry Potter

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s concert for children and families, “The Composer is Dead,” featured familiar musical works from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” along with a murder mystery in which the children had to figure out which instrument led to the disappearance of PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov.

NashThe tragic taxi accident that claimed the lives of John Forbes Nash and Alicia Nash late last Saturday afternoon has inspired shock and sadness in the Princeton community and across the world. The famed mathematician, 86, and his wife, 82. a scholar in her own right, were traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike to their Princeton Junction home when the car crashed about 4:30 p.m. and ejected them from the vehicle.

The taxi lost control near Interchange 8A when trying to pass another car, and crashed into the guardrail, according to New Jersey State Police. The driver was flown to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The Nashes, neither of whom were said to be wearing seatbelts, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr. Nash’s connection to Princeton University goes back to 1950, when he earned his doctorate in mathematics. He joined the University’s mathematics department as a senior research mathematician in 1995, a year after he won the Nobel Prize for economics for his work in game theory.

In between, he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which derailed his career but dissipated as he grew older. Mr. Nash’s life was the subject of Sylvia Nasar’s book A Beautiful Mind, which was turned into an Oscar-winning film in 2002. The mathematician was portrayed by actor Russell Crowe, who commented on Twitter that he was stunned by the accident and called the couple “An amazing partnership. Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts.”

University President Christopher Eisgruber commented on Sunday, “John’s remarkable achievements inspired generations of mathematicians, economists, and scientists who were influenced by his brilliant, groundbreaking work in game theory, and the story of his life with Alicia moved millions of readers and moviegoers who marveled at their courage in the face of daunting challenges.”

University economics professor Dilip J. Abreu called Mr. Nash’s work in game theory “beautiful and profound. His contributions are arguably the greatest in the field, surpassing even those of John von Neumann, the 20th century polymath and founding father of the discipline. His papers have a celestial and effortless quality, as if penned — coolly — while God murmured in his ear.”

When the accident occurred, the Nashes were heading home from Newark Liberty International Airport after a trip to Oslo where Mr. Nash was awarded the prestigious Abel Prize by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Mr. Nash was recognized for his seminal work on partial differential equations, which are used to describe the basic laws of scientific phenomena. He shared the nearly $750,000 prize with longtime colleague Louis Nirenberg, a professor emeritus at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Mr. Nirenberg told National Public Radio that the Nashes were supposed to take a limousine home, but the driver failed to show up. So they took a taxi instead.

The two men received the Abel Prize from King Harald V at a ceremony on May 19. At the event, videos about both men were aired. Mr. Nash’s voice provides narration for the feature about him, as he walks around the Princeton campus.

“I like to think of myself as being sort of like an enlightened philosopher,” he said in one part. “I think of myself as an exceptional mind and I’m specifically trained in mathematics,” he said in another. “I experience myself thinking differently from other people. This could be good if I could think of something that wasn’t what everyone could think of …. I like to think of myself as a genius, but later on I realized it’s meaningless.”

The couple met at MIT, where Alicia Nash was a physics major and John Nash taught. They married, divorced several years later, and then remarried. Mrs. Nash, a mental health advocate, is credited with saving Mr. Nash’s life during his illness, taking him back into her home and caring for him even after they had divorced. Ms. Nasar wrote in A Beautiful Mind, “It was Nash’s genius … to choose a woman who would prove so essential to his survival.”

Mary Caffrey, who worked in the University’s Office of Communications during the time the book was published, recalled working with Ms. Nash at the time. “She was so gracious, and you could hear her pride that John was finally receiving the recognition he was due,” she said. “While the Nobel certainly brought John Nash back into the academic community, I think Alicia realized that Sylvia Nasar’s remarkable book would bring John’s story to a wider audience, which, of course, it did. Alicia was wonderful to work with and I always admired her strength and devotion to her husband.”

The couple’s son Johnny Nash, who also suffers from schizophrenia, survives them. Another son from Mr. Nash’s previous relationship, John David Stier, also survives. Mather-Hodge Funeral Home is handling the memorial service, which is private. A full obituary is to be posted on the Princeton University website later this week.

Discontinuing the 655 bus line that ferries passengers between Princeton and the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro on Route 1 would be a disservice to local residents, Mayor Liz Lempert, other politicians, and local residents told NJ Transit officials at a public hearing last week.

Thursday was the last day the public could comment on service cuts and fare hikes that NJ Transit has proposed to make up for a $60 million funding shortfall. At the Trenton Transit Center, a long line of people voiced opposition to both aspects of the plan. “Residents of Princeton who do not own a car currently rely on public transportation,” Ms. Lempert said during her turn at the microphone. Getting rid of the 655 bus “will disproportionately hurt our low income residents.”

In his opening statement, Alan Maiman, NJ Transit’s deputy general manager of bus service planning, said there are alternative routes that residents could use, involving a connection at Quakerbridge Mall. But more than one speaker said that alternative would involve paying more money and extending the trip from 20 to 90 minutes.

Officials urged NJ Transit to give the line, which has been in place since the hospital moved from the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood to Route 1, a chance to increase ridership. Lester Varga, planning director of Plainsboro Township, said more development planned for the area around the hospital will mean more riders when those projects С an assisted living facility and child development center С are completed.

Officials at the hospital have said they will keep subsidizing the service if NJ Transit keeps it going. And at its most recent meeting, Princeton Council passed a resolution to keep a form of transportation between the town and the hospital.

“The 655 is more than a bus route,” commented Aaron Hyndman, communications coordinator at the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. “It’s a vital link between people in Princeton and their closest hospital. And for those who depend on biking and walking, it’s their only option.”

NJ Transit has said that the fare hikes and service cuts, if approved, would go into effect October 1. The agency has mentioned more than $42 million in  internal savings from a reduction of overtime and other expenses, but still faces a $60 million budget gap. The proposed fare adjustment is for approximately nine percent, which would make a trip between Princeton Junction and Penn Station New York rise from $16.50 to $17.75. The last fare hike, made five years ago, was 22 percent.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) was among the first to speak at the hearing, commenting that raising bus and train fares will mean that riders will defect and choose to drive their cars instead. “All of us benefit from low fares because the less cars that are on the road really helps out the environment and congestion,” he said. “If we chase more people into their cars on the roads, it’s not going to benefit us.”

Senator Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) said, “There couldn’t be a worse time to raise train and bus fares on our working poor.” The changes could cause commuters to move out of New Jersey to live closer to their jobs, she added.

Senator Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) urged the agency to find other methods of filling the budget gap. “In effect, you are adding insult to injury when you ask riders to pay more and receive less,” she said. Taking the bus route 655 out of service would be “very, very disturbing,” she added.

Several speakers took the opportunity to blast Governor Chris Christie for the proposed changes and other actions he has taken on public transportation. “Listen up, Governor Christie. We will not sit down and shut up,” shouted Martin Heraghty, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 824. He called Mr. Christie “Robin Hood in reverse” and called the proposal “a disgrace.”

Many of the speakers were members of New Jersey For Transit, a coalition put together to express opposition to the transit agency’s proposal. “Transit riders can no longer afford to pay the price for New Jersey’s inaction,” said Jon Whiten, deputy director of New Jersey Policy Perspective. “If the governor and the legislature won’t step in to fix a crisis that’s been coming for decades, the least they can do is find a short-term solution in the 2016 budget to fill NJ Transit’s operating hole. Passing the buck to transit riders just won’t cut it.”

The Princeton Public School’s Board of Education approved new three-year contracts with two of the district’s three employee associations at a special meeting in the Valley Road administration building May 20.

Contracts were made with the Princeton Regional Support Staff Association (PRESSA), which represents instructional aides, custodians, bookkeepers, and secretaries, and with the Princeton Administrators’ Association (PAA) which represents principals, assistant principals, and supervisors. Both contracts will replace those due to expire June 30.

Superintendent Steve Cochrane described the negotiations with PRESSA as “a model of positive and productive labor relations.” Of those with PAA, he said he appreciated the “leadership’s positive, professional, and efficient approach.”

Conspicuously absent from successful completion, is a contract with teachers’ union Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA), which has been in lengthy and contentious negotiation since it expired July 1 last year.

Since last fall, talks have been facilitated by state-appointed mediator, Kathy Vogt. But after the two sides failed again to reach agreement Monday, May 4, Ms. Vogt referred the matter for fact-finding to the New Jersey Public Employees Relations Commission, a stage in the process that Board President Andrea Spalla described as “costly and lengthy.”

Similar to non-binding arbitration, the fact-finding process involves a formal hearing before a neutral “factfinder,” who eventually issues recommendations for settlement.

“The process may take anywhere from six to 12 months,” said Lewis Goldstein, assistant superintendent for human resources in a press statement from the district.

According to Mr. Goldstein, mediation is provided to the parties free of charge but a factfinder can charge between $1600 and 2500 per day; a cost that would be split equally between the parties.

At the special meeting and in a press release afterward, details of the Board’s latest offer to the PREA were made public, now that neither side is bound by the mediator’s confidentiality agreement. In response, PREA representative and chief negotiator John Baxter sent a statement to Town Topics. “The Board of Education’s agenda for last night’s meeting contained just two items: ratification of the contract with PRESSA and ratification of the contract with PAA. Board President Andrea Spalla and Superintendent Steve Cochrane, however, spent much of the meeting talking about what wasn’t on the agenda — the negotiations with PREA. When questioned about the propriety of this conduct, Mr. Cochrane explained that sometimes items not on the agenda come up in discussion during the course of a board meeting. This did not serve to explain the powerpoint presentation on the negotiations with PREA, obviously planned for use during the meeting.”

According to the district, the Board’s most recent offer to PREA was structured almost identically to that with PRESSA and included “an aggregate increase in compensation at the effective rates of 2.44 percent in year one (retroactive to July 1, 2014), 2.87 percent in year 2 and 2.79 percent in year 3 of the new contract. The Board’s offer was contingent on PREA members remaining at their current Chapter 78 premium contribution levels and implementing cost-saving measures similar to those agreed to by the other two unions.”

According to Mr. Baxter, “the Board’s effort to unfairly portray the PREA as unreasonable was blatant both during the meeting and in the Board’s press release. The PREA did not refuse to meet again as the Board has characterized the termination of talks on May 4.”

Furthermore, said Mr. Baxter, “The Board’s last proposal included two major inequities: it advanced some educators on the salary guide ahead of others with more experience; and it denied health care relief for others because they were hired within the past four years. We have been negotiating since March, 2014. The time has come for proposals that will get the job done — not proposals that are divisive and that the Board should know we can not take to our members for ratification.”

Of Superintendent Steve Cochrane’s comment, made during the meeting, that the Board remains open to communications and returning to the negotiations table, Mr. Baxter said “We know that is true. What he didn’t tell the public is that it was PREA who reached out to him on May 7 and initiated that conversation.”

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The Spirit of Princeton led and sponsored the annual Memorial Day Parade Saturday, with marchers of all sorts taking part, some in kilts, some in plumed hats, some on bikes and in soap box derby carts. The parade was followed by a dedication ceremony at Monument Hall, where Retired Navy Captain John Baker was the featured speaker. Memorial Day thoughts are the subject of this week’s Town Talk. (Photo by Emily Reeves) 

May 22, 2015

Celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2015 with a customized Ad in the Town Topics Newspaper. Include a photo, a listing of future schools or simply a message of good luck. Full color Ads are available for a special fee. For pricing and publication requirements, contact Jennifer Covill at (609) 924-2200 ext. 31 or simply email jennifer.covill@towntopics.com.


From left, Princeton Public Library Executive Director Leslie Burger, Janie Hermann, public programming librarian; and Peggy Birdsall Cadigan, Deputy State Librarian for Innovation & Strategic Partnerships, New Jersey State Library.

From left, Princeton Public Library Executive Director Leslie Burger, Janie Hermann, public programming librarian; and Peggy Birdsall Cadigan, Deputy State Librarian for Innovation & Strategic Partnerships, New Jersey State Library.

Princeton Public Library has received the 2015 Innovation Award from the New Jersey State Library Association for January’s popular how-to festival, “65 Things at 65 Witherspoon.” The daylong program, during which multiple, simultaneous demonstrations of a variety of skills and abilities took place throughout the library, was an opportunity for members of the community to share their talents with others. Library executive director Leslie Burger and public programming librarian Janie Hermann accepted the award last month during the State Librarians Breakfast at the NJLA Annual Conference in Long Branch. “The New Jersey library community is recognized nationwide for being innovative and forward-thinking ” said Hermann. “So to be recognized as innovators among this group, is a wonderful honor indeed.”

May 21, 2015

The American Boychoir School needs an infusion of $1 million and a new, more affordable location in order to stay open.

In his latest communication with funders and friends of the school, board chairman Rob D’Avanzo has written that the private boarding academy for fourth-to-eighth-grade boys will not begin another school year “unless we know we can finish it. Operating annually without a financial reserve is perilous, no matter how deeply we wish to continue delivering the school’s incredible programming.”

The Plainsboro-based school filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month and began a fundraising campaign that enabled the students to finish out the school year. Approximately $360,000 was brought in the emergency campaign. The school’s Concert Choir toured the country in late April, and the Training Choir performed on a separate tour. Last weekend, graduation was held and the movie “Boychoir,” based on the school, opened at the Garden Theatre.

The American Boychoir School, founded in 1937 in Ohio and relocated to Princeton in 1950, was formerly located in a mansion on Lambert Drive that is currently home to the PRISMS Academy. ABS moved to its Plainsboro campus in 2013.

The board met for six hours to discuss the future following last Sunday’s graduation ceremony. “In the coming weeks, the board will be focused on whether it can secure both acceptable facilities and the financial commitments necessary to restructure the school,” Mr. D’Avanzo’s email reads. “When I wrote to you on April 10, I said that we would need $3 million to continue. Many of you have asked me whether we need all of that money in hand even before we can reopen. We do not, but we believe prudence necessitates that we obtain $1 million of committed funds to consider opening the school next year.”

The email says another update will be provided June 1.

May 20, 2015
ARTIST OF NOTE: Victoria Gebert will be recognized as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts at an award ceremony in Washington, D. C. next month. The Princeton High School graduating senior who is an accomplished sculptor with a penchant for turning trash into treasure was in math class when she heard the announcement of the award. Her artwork will be shown at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and she will be attending Yale University this fall. The stunning gown she crafted entirely from recycled materials won Princeton Magazine’s annual student art contest and was featured on the cover of the magazine’s holiday issue in 2013.

ARTIST OF NOTE: Victoria Gebert will be recognized as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts at an award ceremony in Washington, D. C. next month. The Princeton High School graduating senior who is an accomplished sculptor with a penchant for turning trash into treasure was in math class when she heard the announcement of the award. Her artwork will be shown at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and she will be attending Yale University this fall. The stunning gown she crafted entirely from recycled materials won Princeton Magazine’s annual student art contest and was featured on the cover of the magazine’s holiday issue in 2013.

Graduating Princeton High School (PHS) senior Victoria Gebert will have much to celebrate this year on her 18th birthday. She’ll be one of 141 young scholars across the country being recognized for their accomplishments in academics or the arts at an awards ceremony in Washington D.C. on June 21.

As the recipient of a 2015 United States Presidential Scholars Award, Ms. Gebert will receive a Presidential Scholar Medallion. She is one of 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.

The Princeton student is an accomplished sculptor and her artwork will be displayed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

“Presidential Scholars demonstrate the accomplishments that can be made when students challenge themselves, set the highest standards, and commit themselves to excellence,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in his announcement of the award. “These scholars are poised to make their mark on our nation in every field imaginable: the arts and humanities, science and technology, law and medicine, business and finance, education and government — to name a few.”

Presidential Scholars are selected annually based on academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.

Ms. Gebert was in math class when she heard the news. “I knew names were being announced in early May, but it didn’t really sink in until I saw the list and realized my name was on it! It’s actually still sinking in that I get to go down to D.C. and show my art in the Kennedy Center.”

After graduating from PHS, Ms. Gebert will be off to Yale University where she hopes to combine her passion for art with her interests in psychology and music. ”I’m super passionate about sculpture, but I also love allowing my other artistic and academic passions to inform my art. My love for psychology and music should never come second to my art — they can all go hand-in-hand.”

Readers of Town Topics and Princeton Magazine may recall that Ms. Gebert first caught the public’s attention when she debuted a dress made out of trash at Princeton University’s Trash Artstravaganza and transformed corrugated cardboard and orange burlap into a spectacular float in the style of Jabba the Hut’s Sail Barge for a recent Princeton University P-rade.

She was the first place winner of Princeton Magazine’s “Wintertime in Princeton” Student Art Contest with the beautiful dress, shown above. Titled “Winter Wonderland,” the dress was constructed entirely of recycled materials when Ms. Gebert was an 11th grader at PHS. The stunning gown was featured on the cover of Princeton Magazine’s holiday issue in 2013.

Born in Princeton hospital in 1987, just a year after her parents and siblings moved to Princeton from their native Germany, Ms. Gebert is the youngest of four children and has two sisters and a brother. At age 16, she was recognized for her artistic endeavors by the National Young Arts Foundation.

“I grew up in a safe, supportive town and received an incredible amount of love and learning from family, teachers, and friends, so I would be pretty misguided if I thought this was all me,” said the award-winner. “I’m especially grateful to all the educators in my life — I don’t know where I would be without all the intellectual curiosity and knowledge they shared with me.”

One of only eight winners from New Jersey and the only one from PHS, Ms. Gebert was selected among 4,300 candidates out of more than three million students expected to graduate from high school this year, who qualified for the 2015 awards.

For a complete list of 2015 U.S. Presidential Scholars, visit: www.ed.gov/programs/psp/awards.html.

The Spirit of Princeton invites the community to the annual Memorial Day Parade and Dedication Ceremony Saturday, May 23, at 10 a.m. The parade on Nassau Street will be followed by an 11:15 a.m. dedication ceremony at Princeton Monument Hall (former Borough Hall).

The parade features veteran’s groups, marching bands, civic and youth groups, all marching to honor those who have died in military service to their country.

The parade kicks off at 10 a.m. at Princeton Avenue and Nassau Street and then heads down Nassau Street to Princeton Monument Plaza, where the ceremony will take place. Retired Navy Captain John Baker will be the featured speaker at the ceremony.

Small American flags will be distributed for free to children along the parade route. These and other parade expenses are paid for by the Spirit of Princeton, a charitable non-profit group of local residents dedicated to bringing the community together through a variety of civic events, such as the Memorial Day Parade, Flag Day Ceremony, Veterans’ Day Ceremony and Independence Day Fireworks. Donations to Spirit of Princeton are encouraged, because the organization, which has been in existence for two decades and was funded initially by a few very generous donor grants, may be forced to cut back on those activities that have played such a joyful role in the lives of Princeton residents. See the website for information on how you can “Get into the Spirit” by donating.

The parade and ceremony will take place rain or shine. No political campaigning is allowed in the parade, but local officials will be recognized along the parade route. Participating veterans can park at Monument Hall. Shuttle service is available to the parade start.

Parade watchers can have breakfast before or after the parade at the Princeton Rotary Pancake Breakfast from 8 a.m. to noon at the Palmer Square Green.

For further information, call (609) 430-0144 or visit: www.spiritofprinceton.org.

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson will speak on Thursday, May 21 at a breakfast sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. The event will be held from 7:30–9:30 a.m. at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Trenton. Mayor Jackson will lead a discussion on economic development and public safety in Trenton.

“The Princeton Regional Chamber is very pleased to host this important presentation by Mayor Jackson and his economic development team,” said John P. Thurber, Chairman of the Chamber. “Under the mayor’s direction, a comprehensive city-wide market study has just been completed. This study provides vital new insights to guide Trenton’s economic development strategy, and links public safety and quality of life improvements to that strategy.”

Mr. Thurber added, “We look forward to hearing the mayor’s presentation and to learning how the Chamber and our partners can work together to support the revitalization of the capital city. All of us in the region have a stake in that revitalization because the region’s prosperity depends on Trenton’s vitality.”

Tickets for the event are $25 and can be purchased online at www.princetonchamber.org or on the day of the event.


The question of how to handle congestion caused by tour buses on Nassau Street came before Princeton Council in the form of a work session Monday night. A committee made up of Council members, merchants, and others has been grappling with the tour bus issue for several months, and Mayor Liz Lempert wanted to hear from the governing body before proceeding further.

“It’s a difficult issue,” said Council President Bernie Miller earlier in the day. “It’s difficult to come up with a solution that doesn’t gore somebody’s ox.”

Buses arrive daily so that tourists, many of whom are international travelers, can take pictures of Nassau Hall and other parts of the Princeton University campus. The stops are often one leg of a trip to Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington, D.C., so tourists are in town for only a brief period of time. Many visit Starbucks for snacks and to use the facilities, and some merchants complain there isn’t enough time for shopping or meals at local restaurants.

Merchant Henry Landau of Landau on Nassau Street was opposed to a proposal that would remove eight metered parking spaces on Nassau Street to make way for loading zones for the tour buses. Instead, he suggested that buses stop in front of the PNC Bank at the top of Palmer Square and then reload across the street where the taxis wait for passengers. “If you back up the taxi parking on the other side to where the taxi stand is, you would have more than adequate space for two buses on that side as well,” he said. “In most cases the buses are in and out by 11 a.m.”

Safety is a major concern. “It’s my number one goal,” said Council member Lance Liverman. The large buses, parked on Nassau Street and obscuring visibility for pedestrians as well as those driving cars, are “an accident waiting to happen,” he said. Mr. Miller commented that safety of tourists is equally worrisome. “When the bus stops away from the pedestrian crossing, they walk out in the middle of Nassau Street,” he said.

Council discussed implementing a temporary parking program which could run from June 1 through September 30. Two places on Nassau Street could be designated for loading and unloading passengers, and the buses would park on Alexander Street across from the Dinky train station. Another possibility was to drop passengers off on William Street, have the buses park across from the Dinky station, and then pick the passengers up again at the other end of town.

Council member Jo Butler said keeping buses off of Nassau Street could be a missed opportunity for merchants, and questioned if all buses should be treated equally. “It’s not one size fits all,” she said. “We might want to consider different solutions on different days. We have a lot of people we want to make happy.” In response to a suggestion that different rules apply to the buses on different days of the week, most Council members said they favored a policy that applied to every day.

Criteria the Council came up with for development of a plan were centered around access to crosswalks, spaces large enough for buses to park, keeping meters close to stores for residents to use, minimal disruption for church programs and business deliveries, a walkable distance for tourists to visit Nassau Hall, and proximity to shopping destinations. The town’s Traffic and Transportation Committee will review suggestions and return to Council with recommendations at a June meeting.

Kanye West BookPoet Sarah Blake will be reading from her unauthorized lyric biography, Mr. West: Poems Wesleyan University Press, ($24.95), at Labyrinth Books on Thursday, May 21 at 6 p.m.

According to Andrew DuBois’s recent notice in the New York Times Book Review, “The central connection Blake makes (and the main strength of the book) is between herself, as impending mother to a son, and Kanye’s mother, Dr. Donda West. A touching elegiac strain is evident throughout these poems of motherhood, although in this triangle of affection, with the two women as the base, Kanye is still the uppermost point.”

Says poet Evie Sockley, author of the new black: “Mr. West transforms the poet’s fascination with the rapper into an amazing group of poems that explores what she knows or can find out about West, alongside her own life. The poems construct West as unmistakably human and larger than life — as much like as unlike the poet. The work is tender without being sentimental, funny without being cruel, and obsessive without being exploitative. It is a study in nuance and it is strangely moving.”

Sarah Blake is the founder of the online writing tool Submittrs, an editor at Saturnalia Books, and a recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship. Her poetry has appeared in Boston Review, Drunken Boat, FIELD, and The Threepenny Review.


More than 30 hands-on topics are on the agenda for the sixth annual Science Expo at Littlebrook Elementary School on Thursday, May 21. Like these students getting a close-up look at horseshoe crabs with Dr. Alan Geperin, young participants will explore chemistry, biology, physics, genetics, and more with visiting experts from Princeton University, the Institute for Advanced Study, and other academic institutions. Joining the lineup this year are a Google executive and a Marine Corps pilot. Littlebrook is at 39 Magnolia Lane in Princeton. For more information, visit https://sites.google.com/site/littlebrookespto/science-expo.