PRINCETON: Support fiscal responsibility and cost effectiveness in education

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John Clearwater, Princeton
Locally, the Princeton Regional school board election and Mayor Lempert’s published views on public education preordain huge increases in real estate taxes in Princeton.
The most important outcome of Princeton’s increasingly excessive expenditures on education is many millions less being available to support alternative, critical community wide needs. The following, supporting this conclusion, is based on years of experience in leadership and business/financial management roles in educational institutions in both public and private sectors , including the Princeton area.
First, let’s look at just one financial performance metric: “Actual Per Pupil Cost” for comparable “High Performing Districts.” Without citing years of published data, the basic facts are that New Jersey top 10-rated West Windsor schools per pupil costs are over 30 percent lower than Princeton Regional School District. This gross disparity between districts performing at the highest level in the same county is unjustified and unacceptable. Just because it’s Princeton? The Princeton board and prior superintendent have been questioned publicly to state what specific student outcomes justify this large disparity. On an annual budget in the $60 million range, this represents $18 million tax dollars that could be used for other alternative community needs,
Second, the real question is not whether we can afford it but do our students receive a first-rate education? Yes to both without question! However, accountability and fiscal responsibility for the public purse demand cost effectiveness in the delivery of public services. The PRS board has not done the job.
The good news is, finally, the electorate has a general election vote. We must each year elect a board with a strong sense of responsibility to the community at large and impacts of their huge costs on other priority government programs.
Third, what is the import of this year’s election? The League of Women’s Voters conducted an excellent forum presenting the four candidates for three, three-year terms. Based on their statements of qualification and the resumes of the candidates, Princeton is fortunate to have individuals with these competencies willing to serve. The forum attendees heard important responses to questions posed on policy issues that reflected a common commitment to and focus on students, parents, teachers and staff/administration. Unfortunately, there was no detailed discussion of costs, but pledges of support for whatever is needed for our highly rated district. Only a few general statements were voiced on school budgets and efforts to control growth in costs.
Last, important and of serious concern, were assertions from some stating their belief that the Princeton Regional Schools are “under-funded.” Although not mentioned, this follows the same “Princeton schools are under funded” statement by Mayor Lempert, parroting the positions of Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and others in Trenton.
Candidate Greg Stankewicz in several sidebar comments gave his unequivocal support for increased funding of Princeton schools plus a wholesale endorsement of Save Our Schools’ (SOS) activist notions supporting higher taxes for all schools statewide. Not mentioned in his remarks was the fact that his spouse is Professor Sass Rubin of Rutgers, co-founder of SOS , and a strong advocate for teachers unions. Given key union negotiations early in the new year, one wonders if candidate Stankewicz can participate in union negotiations or must recuse himself as having conflicts of interest.
Rhetorically, one wonders on what basis a candidate for school board or mayor of Princeton can, before ever being seated on the board, state unequivocally our “Princeton schools are ‘underfunded’ ” Seriously?
Vote for fiscal responsibility and cost effectiveness in delivery of quality education. 
John Clearwater 
Princeton 