Schools Budget Coming; Cuts Discussed

Linda Arntzenius

Borough and Township taxpayers will soon be receiving details of the Princeton Regional Board of Education 2006-2007 Schools budget in the mail. The Board presented details of the $72 million budget Tuesday, March 28, in a public hearing held at the John Witherspoon Middle School. Voters will cast ballots on the single question budget on April 18.

If the budget is approved, a Borough taxpayer with a home assessed at $400,000 would see taxes jump from $6,760 to $6,921, an increase of $161 or 4 cents per $100 of assessed value. A Township taxpayer with a home assessed at $400,000 would see taxes go from $6,160 to $6478, an increase of $318 or 8 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Details of the budget, which also calls for cuts to ten district positions, can be viewed on the Princeton Regional School District's website, at www2.prs.k12.nj.us.

Kushner Cut Protested

The proposed cuts include that of the position of the full-time director of the IDEAS center at Princeton High School (PHS). The center's current director, Martin Kushner, addressing the Board last Tuesday, expressed fears for the future of the center in serving a wide spectrum of student needs. He said that the center, which offers all day and after school programs, provides a warm welcoming environment for minority students, special education students, and those taking advanced placement classes. Mr. Kushner introduced volunteer tutors from the high school, Princeton University, and the community.

Princeton University sophomores Howard Yu and Greg Hiller called for a reconsideration of the cut: "Mr. Kushner has a lot of supporters because he has created a great program," said Mr. Yu, who graduated from PHS in 2004. Cy Adler, a retired professor from The College of New Jersey, praised Mr. Kushner's running of the IDEAS Center. "Marty Kushner makes anybody and everybody welcome," he said. "Students are free to unload their fears and trepidations. If we don't maintain this we are liable to have a Columbine style incident in this school district." One student credited the center with raising his grade from a C to an A in chemistry and thanked Mr. Kushner for his care in choosing a good-fit tutor.

In support of Mr. Kushner, who has been director of the Center for three years, senior Matthew Feeney presented the Board with a petition expressing the view that "the position of director is essential to the smooth running of the IDEAS center."

Senior Rohith Chandrasekar argued that the job of director of the IDEAS center was too important to cut or replace with a part-time position. He praised Mr. Kushner's way of interacting with students. "Minority student achievement is supported greatly by the IDEAS Center and Mr. Kushner," he said.

In response, Ms. Wilson said that the issue before the board is not the elimination of the IDEAS center but a consolidation of staffing.

New Wellness Policy

Chair of the Wellness Policy Committee Mary Anne Brungart presented findings to the Board with respect to the new wellness policy that she has been working to develop with colleagues since last fall.

To comply with the federal government's Child Nutrition and Women, Infants and Children Reauthorization Act of 2004, and state mandates designed to combat obesity, the Princeton Regional School District must have a wellness policy in place by the start of the new school year in September and be in compliance with the policy by September 2007.

The state mandate requires districts to adopt a general school nutrition policy that would forbid the sale of foods of minimal nutritional value, such as candy. The requirement applies to food sold through the school lunch program, snacks from vending machines, as well as foods sold at bake sales.

Ms. Brungart, who is school nurse at John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS), reported that currently 6.6 percent of students at the middle school are overweight and that over 2 percent qualify as obese.

The Wellness Policy Committee has drawn up goals and objectives in the areas of physical fitness, nutrition (including food service operations), and nutrition education, as well as in the area of program assessment. It recommends that each school in the district have a wellness committee that would combat obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle.

"Current physical education programs do not meet the needs of our at-risk students," said Ms. Brungart, "and nutrition also falls short." She commended the successful gardening program at Riverside Elementary School, which she suggested might be expanded or adopted by other schools.

Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson acknowledged the work of the volunteers who had worked to put the wellness policy in place. "I expect this to be a hallmark throughout the state," she said. "The proposed new policy goes beyond the government-mandated guidelines to help promote fitness and good nutrition for all district students." She said that the board would complete its review and analysis of the proposed policy before the start of the new school year in September.

Members Step Down

The Board also heard formal resolutions in recognition of the contributions of departing members, President Anne Burns and board member Glenn Schiltz, neither of whom is seeking re-election. Ms. Burns has served for six years; Mr. Schiltz for three years.

Member Michael Mostoller commended Ms. Burns for her penetrating intelligence, her warmth and wit, her energy and enthusiasm, her commitment to all. There were tears from Ms. Burns as she received a standing ovation from those attending.

Mr. Schiltz was commended for his efforts in minority education. "Glen has challenged us with his penetrating questions which have made our deliberations more thoughtful," commented Ms. Burns.

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