Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 52
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
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School Board Sees Threat to Local Control

Ellen Gilbert

School Board President Alan Hegedus and Superintendent Judy Wilson have requested a meeting with state senators to discuss proposed legislation that may have profound effects on the Princeton Regional School District. At last week’s Board meeting, Mr. Hegedus noted that “we’re under a threat from the legislature suggesting that we may not have local options to sustain what we’ve built.” He asked for “understanding by the community to look at where we are and support the Board in efforts to keep erosion at bay. This is not a drill.”

Questions about recent State Department of Education initiatives were the pervasive theme of the meeting. Of particular concern, as Ms. Wilson noted in her opening comments, were proposed changes to the budget preparation process, and a “one-size-fits-all” high school redesign proposal.

In his Finance Committee report, Chair Josh Leinsdorf elaborated on a state proposal that would eliminate local elections to approve the district’s annual budget, leaving, he said, “what happens in the schools in the hands of 21 county districts.” Because the “state is technically broke and can’t come up with an aid formula for the schools,” he added, “Governor Corzine and the legislature have decided that school districts don’t have to pay their pension contributions in the coming budget year to make up for the shortfall in state aid. It’s the old routine of ‘smoke and mirrors.’”

New Jersey School Board liaison Rebecca Cox similarly reported that the state is discussing canceling local voting on school budgets and delaying the election of school board members from April to November. While these changes may work for less well-performing districts, she said, they do not bode well for Princeton, and she encouraged residents to contact their local representatives to express their concern.

Describing the state measures as a “forced march to mediocrity” and “a vise out of Trenton,” Mr. Hegedus observed that “what has changed in the last year is the rate of expectations out of our state government as to how we should be allowed to sustain this level of performance. The state is in extremis, and as they have looked to solve the property tax burden that is suffered by all tax payers because of this, the school budgets are in the first line of attack. We don’t want Princeton to be just adequate — we don’t want to revert to a mean that incorporates everyone in the state. We want to have local control.”

Other topics at the Tuesday meeting included Facilities Committee Chair Mia Cahill’s report that it has been about a year since the committee invited the Borough and the Township to make recommendations regarding use of the older section of Valley Road Building. She expressed the hope that “we can all move forward on the issue in January.” 

The new Princeton High School Dean of Students Diana Lygas has “received numerous referrals” after only four months on the job, according to Personnel Committee Chair Walter Bliss. With a charge to “make sure that no child falls between the cracks in the high school,” he said that Ms. Lygas “reaches out and identifies students who appear to have problems that interfere with academic performance,” offering counseling to students and outreach to parents. Her case load of about 70 students (she anticipates 100) represents, Mr. Bliss reported, “a diverse array of students, cutting across the entire student population.” He added that the dean’s larger mission is to “knit together a school community in which all students connect and support each other.”

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