January 17, 2018

PRS Costs and Our Town’s Fiscal Crisis: Four Observations and Seven Priorities

In 2016 I wrote, “Princeton School Board (PRS) Election/Huge Tax Increases Pre-ordained.” As the town now enters 2018, it is evident that predictions re: PRS cost growth will be exceeded and the problem will become a tax and fiscal crisis for our town. How so?

First and foremost, PRS per student costs are totally out of control and far exceed those of other high performing districts, even those in Mercer County. Costs up to 38 percent more on a $100 million budget. This grievously impacts the town’s ability to fund other priority needs. PLUS, the percent of real estate taxes allocated to PRS keeps growing.

Second, PRS current demographic projections and related plans to accommodate predicted growth will mandate a major bond issue to fund school construction for hundreds of additional students in several schools. Teachers and administrative personnel required will increase concurrently.

Third, actions that might eliminate or reduce both forecasted increases in enrollment and the scope of capital investments are not being fully explored and certainly not being aggressively pursued. Cranbury High School sending district, non-resident, and various ineligible students comprise a list of hundreds PPS is not required to admit.

Fourth and most important, the demographic data and trends used to justify the huge expenditures being planned are flawed. They ignore or place no credence in the possible impact of macro-scale programs which are being initiated or expanded at the federal level by the new administration’s secretary of education, including school choice, vouchers, charter schools, etc. These programs may reduce PRS future enrollments significantly, as there are large numbers of empty seats in area private schools of diverse character, plus under-enrollment and closure of many financially troubled schools, especially those with religious affiliations. Vouchers and school choice options alone could significantly increase enrollments and financial viability of many schools and enable reopening of several in our area.

Personally, I have spent over 30 years, most often as a pro-bono volunteer, involved in and strongly supporting both public and private education at all levels. In Princeton, I have always supported ensuring continuity of their treasured traditions of excellence! I am reminded of my first election campaign for PRS Board in 1992 and trying to “foster a climate for constructive change.” I recall very welcome and detailed, fact-based coverage of all candidates in our local media including my seven priorities listed below:

• Restore Board’s proper role — GOVERNANCE

• Get educational priorities straight

• Stop Board’s preoccupation with raising revenues (taxes)

• Start reducing and controlling costs

• Stop explosive growth in salaries and benefits

• Downsize administration

• Focus on performance and accountability

John Clearwater,

Governors Lane