$17.5M PPS Referendum Coming Up Next Month For Princeton Voters
By Donald Gilpin
Most Princeton voters will be going to the polls in person for a special school election on January 25, but some vote-by-mail ballots are already arriving in mailboxes this week. Voters will be weighing in on a $17.5 million bond issue to finance new roofing and other repairs and improvements for all six schools in the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) district.
The district has invited families to join PPS Business Administrator Matt Bouldin and Board of Education (BOE) members on Wednesday, December 15 at 7 p.m. on Zoom for an information and Q&A session about this facilities stewardship referendum. (For more information and the webinar link visit princetonk12.org/district/referendum-2022.)
At several recent public sessions, and on the PPS website, the BOE, highlighting stewardship and fiscal responsibility, has presented extensive information on the needed repairs, the costs, and the impact on Princeton taxes.
“Providing a safe and healthy environment where our students can learn has consistently been a top priority in this community,” said Bouldin in a December 13 press release. “After a comprehensive review of building systems, the Board of Education is proposing a practical way to make repairs and improvements.”
In a press conference on December 13, BOE President Beth Behrend encouraged people to inform themselves and to vote on January 25. Effective communication and responsible stewardship have been the Board’s priorities, she added.
“We’re very much interested in making sure that the community understands the thinking behind this,” she said. “We’ve been elected by the community to be stewards and fiduciaries for these buildings, for the whole system. We’d love to be just focusing on our children and what they’re learning, but we do have to focus on more mundane matters, and we’re trying to be good stewards.”
She continued, “We want to make sure that the community understands the data that we have collected and how we thought about this and why the timing is what it is.”
Behrend noted that it is not typical to conduct a referendum in January, but the timing depended on the completion of an extensive review of PPS facilities
and analysis of systems, and the development of a long-term facilities maintenance schedule.
In addition to this week’s information session, the BOE will be speaking to the school PTOs in the coming month and is planning to hold another Zoom town hall-type public meeting in mid-January.
“The meeting on Wednesday is an opportunity for people to listen in and ask us questions,” said Behrend. “We want everyone to understand the thinking on this, how it works, the impact on their pocketbooks and what that means for the schools.”
At Monday’s press conference, Bouldin pointed out that if voters approve the $17.5 million bond issue, the additional cost to the average property taxpayer (owner of a house worth $830,000) would be about $172 in 2023 and $262 in 2024, before leveling off to about $65 each year after that up to the 20th year of the debt financing.
But PPS will be paying off other debt over the next two years, and, Bouldin added, “Even if we approve these projects, the tax levy will decrease next year, and we expect taxpayers will see a decrease in the overall tax levy in coming years.”
Bouldin also emphasized the cost-effectiveness of financing the proposed capital improvements with a bond, which will be subsidized up to 34 percent of principal and interest by the state of New Jersey. Other forms of financing would not be eligible for reimbursement by the state.
In addition to new roofing at all six district schools, the funds from the bond issue would be used to replace outdated HVAC equipment, to repair and replace gutters, fascia, and skylights at Johnson Park, siding at Riverside and Littlebrook, and to repair aging masonry on the Princeton High School Tower, which was originally constructed in 1928.
Bouldin said that, after years of patchwork and emergency repairs, many of the schools’ roofs have reached the end of their useful lives. For example, he noted that the Littlebrook roof currently has 35 patches of various sizes.
The district is looking to make the roof replacements “solar ready” to facilitate the future installation of solar panels that would be eligible for subsidies, would reduce energy costs, and would align with the district’s sustainability goals, according to Bouldin.
Election Day voting on January 25 will be held at the four district elementary schools from 1:30 to 8 p.m.
If the referendum passes and the bond issue is approved on January 25, work would begin in the summer of 2022, with most of the work being done over the next four summers when students are not in the building.
“These buildings require constant investment to keep them in good shape,” said Behrend in summing up the referendum proposal. “This is a good stewardship way of taking care of things that need to be done.”