School district throws Charter School under the bus

By Philip Sean Curran

Staff Writer

The Princeton School Board is blaming the Princeton Charter School for why school taxes will go up by more than 4 percent this year.

School Board President Patrick Sullivan said Wednesday that the board is due to adopt its $95.2 million budget next week, a spending plan calling for a 4.1 percent hike to the tax levy. Figures showed that 1.2 percent of that increase – what Sullivan termed the “Charter School tax” – will go to cover the phased in enrollment expansion at Princeton Charter.

School purpose taxes are due to rise by $197 at the average home assessment of $821,771. Overall, the tax levy to support the budget will be $78.7 million, according to the district.

The board is scheduled to vote Tuesday to adopt the spending plan for the fiscal year starting in July.

In working on its budget, the district had faced a much higher tax hike, initially more than 5 percent, and sought to whittle away the increase.

“Keeping taxes down is something the board is always mindful of, while maintaining academic quality,” Sullivan said.

The district plans to add more staff, including two elementary school teachers in response to a growing enrollment that has seen the public schools add 332 more students in the past five years.

Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane said Wednesday that one of the teachers would be assigned to Community Park Elementary School, while he has not decided where the other one will go.

Yet the enrollment growth at Princeton Charter – an additional 54 more students for September – will mean an extra $1.1 million the district will have to turn over to the Charter. Sullivan said the “Charter School tax makes our increase much higher” this year.

“But given our enrollment increases,” Sullivan continued, “I think we’ve done a very good job in keeping the increase in line with historical precedents.”

For his part, Charter School Board President Paul Josephson had no comment Wednesday.

Princeton Charter and the school board have fought over the enrollment expansion, one that the acting state Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington approved, despite fierce opposition from the community.

As the district looks to wrap up one budget-making season, they are seeking to get funding from the likes of Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study to support the school system. The school board formed a three-member-committee to approach them about contributing financially to the schools, where faculty, staff and, in the case of the IAS, visiting scholars send their children.

Sullivan said he is looking for the committee to come up with a strategy, a message and a target dollar amount.