Reorganized School Board Sings Post-Budget Blues

Linda Arntzenius

Following the April 18 election, the Board of Education reorganized its membership, welcoming returning board member Joshua Leinsdorf and two new members, Rebecca Cox and Mia Cahill, and calling for nominations for president and vice president.

Architect Michael Mostoller, now in his second term on the board, was nominated and endorsed as board president on Tuesday April 25, replacing Ann Burns who stepped down after six years.

Mr. Mostoller thanked the board for their support and spoke briefly about Princeton's schools. "I think that the most successful aspect of our schools is their academic excellence. This is a tremendous achievement and thanks are due to the devoted teachers and administrators. What I think can be improved is attention to everyone's learning motivation and level of achievement, whether in the classroom, or on the fields, in the band room, orchestra, or studio. Seeking ways to motivate all the student population is a challenge to both students and faculty. Excellence can be achieved in one area, and transferred to others, including athletics and the arts, as they interact with academics."

Among the principles that will guide his tenure as Board President, Mr. Mostoller listed the need for schools to address multiple intelligences (academic, physical, social, emotional, ethical) and to strive for excellence in academics, athletics, and the arts. "They all count, they work together," he said.

"School is a 'working' environment with organizing, teaching, coaching, mentoring and peer relations at its heart. We must address scholarship, creativity, and disciplined hard work. School is a microcosm of its community, with diverse backgrounds and experiences. We must provide a rich variety of choices, opportunities and learning situations. School is the students' world. We must concern ourselves with motivation, spirit, and creative processes."

Finally, he said, "School is paid for by taxes. We must practice economy, good housekeeping, wise management, and careful planning."

Board member Alan Hegedus was appointed vice president in place of Mr. Mostoller. In thanking the Board, Mr. Hegedus urged other members of the community to consider Board membership.

In her report to the Board, Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson said that notice had been taken of the poor voter turnout at the polls on April 18. While she was pleased that the 2006-07 budget had passed, she said that the poor turnout sends a clear message that something must be done and that the board must not be complacent.

While voters in the Princeton Regional School District approved a $72.44 million budget for the 2006-2007 school year by a vote of 830-631, voter participation in the Borough and in the Township was lower than in recent years. Voter turnout was 5.55 percent in the Borough and 10.54 percent in the Township. Last year, 9 percent of Borough voters and 13 percent of Township voters turned out for the election.

Board member and election analyst Joshua Leinsdorf, who was re-elected to a second term on April 18, went further. "We know we are on the edge," he said. He urged teachers and students to turn off the lights when leaving classrooms.

Privatization of Public Schools?

Board member Jeffrey Spears observed that what we are seeing in Princeton is the beginning of the selective privatization of our public schools. What is at stake, he said, is the core of our education. We must deal with unfunded state mandates and testing requirements. He urged the community to put pressure on state legislature.

He said: "Because of S1701 school districts around the state are dismissing staff and charging fees for such routine extras as sports and after-school clubs. Princeton is not at that point yet, but if the government keeps increasing unfunded mandates while keeping a hard cap on spending, we will be forced to charge more and more fees, in effect privatizing aspects of public education. The core problem is not the management of school districts, but the fact that the state could not afford a 30 percent cut in income tax and still maintain services and relieve property taxes without borrowing money. Unless legislators of both parties face up to the general revenue issue, public education in New Jersey will go into the same downward spiral that it did in California in the wake of Proposition 13."

Mr. Hegedus endorsed Mr. Spears's comments and added that the margin in support of the 2006-07 School budget in the Borough was much less that in the Township. The budget passed in Princeton Borough by only 22 votes and was approved in Princeton Township by only 177 votes. He described the Borough vote and the low turnout as a 'cry of despair" which has been heard by the board.

Grant Application

At last week's meeting, the Board approved a grant application for $300,000 to the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, which would be used to meet new state and federal physical education standards and local wellness policy for K-12 students over a 36-month period from Fall 2006 to Fall 2009.

The grant would be used to purchase technology for assessment and data management for specific fitness- and nutrition-related services. The funds would also support professional development, new fitness equipment, and subcontracts with community organizations and local government agencies.

World Languages

Superintendent Wilson reported that the Princeton Regional Schools World Languages Program has been commended by the State Department of Education as a K-12 model program. For the last four years, the district's world languages program has been a model for K-8. With this designation for 2006-2008, PRS is the only district in the State to receive K-12 model program recognition. Ms. Wilson congratulated the world languages staff and K-12 Subject Area Supervisor Priscilla Russel for their stellar achievement.

The next Board of Education Meeting will take place at 8 p.m. on May 23 in the John Witherspoon Middle School.

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