Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 13
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
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Board of Education Approves “Conservative Budget” for 2011-2012

Ellen Gilbert

At its Tuesday evening meeting last week, the Board of Education unanimously approved a total balanced operating budget of $73,830,765 for the 2011-2012 school year. Operating under a two percent cap mandated by the state government, this translates as a tax request of $62,190,302 for area residents.

The “one-third/two-third” split that typically characterizes the difference in subsequent taxes for Borough and Township residents is less apparent this year, with a Borough tax increase of close to $98 on an average assessed home of $797,745 and, for Township residents, a hike of close to $103 on an average Borough home assessed at $827,065. Residents will have an opportunity to vote on the budget at an election that will take place on Wednesday, April 27. District Superintendent Judy Wilson noted the relatively late date for this annual election, and the fact that it will be taking place on a Wednesday, instead of the usual Tuesday.

“Conservative is the label for this budget,” said Ms. Wilson, noting that she anticipated the two percent cap policy would continue over the next several years. Since this amount is applied to each previous year’s budget, it represents the district’s on-going struggle to address improvements in technology, better inner and external communication systems, professional development for faculty and staff, and capital projects. Instead, Ms. Wilson said, the focus this year would be on “health and safety issues.” She spoke of the district’s need to find outside funding sources, a regular theme for her and other board members since last year’s “great loss” of some $7 million in state aid. A “second question,” which Ms. Wilson said she believed was untenable for taxpayers in the current financial climate, will not appear on this year’s ballot.

The April 27 election will also give Borough residents an opportunity to re-elect Timothy Quinn who is running unopposed for a second three-year term on the Board. Township resident Dan Haughton is also running unopposed for a second term, and newcomer Afsheen Shamsi, who ran unsuccessfully last year, is unopposed in her quest for the seat being vacated by three-term Board member Walter Bliss.

During the Comments portion of the hearing, Park Block, a cofounder of the Princeton International Academy Charter School due to open this fall, spoke of the district’s apparent disinterest in funds available to them through the Interdistrict Schools Choice Program. The law, which was sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner (D-15) and unanimously passed by the State Senate, uses the “money follows the child” model by allowing students in overcrowded, under-performing schools in other districts to enroll in public schools in more successful districts like Princeton, where spaces are felt to have been “lost” to charter schools. PRS currently does this on a limited basis by accepting high school students from Cranbury. 

“I am sorry to learn that Princeton Regional School District does not plan to open the school to students from other districts, especially if the elementary and middle schools have the space,” said Ms. Turner in a recent letter to Mr. Parker. “As you know, applying as a receiving district is a local decision, and your local representatives on the school board may be more willing to compel the district to apply if the voters are more vocal about their interests. Additionally, more taxpayers might get behind the opportunity to become a receiving district if they realize that the program will help to keep the budget costs down.”

Since parents of students in other districts would have to make a conscientious effort to enroll their children elsewhere, Mr. Parker observed, the kinds of students who would end up in Princeton public schools would probably be high-achieving.

Ms. Wilson responded by saying that she would be willing to discuss at a later meeting overcrowded classrooms and other items that made the Interdistrict Schools Choice Program an inappropriate option for Princeton.

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