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PRINCETON: Charter School expansion approved

Princeton Charter School

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Princeton Charter School can expand its enrollment by 76 more pupils through a two-year-phased in period, acting-state Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington ruled in a decision announced Wednesday., “The commissioner should be commended for taking a thoughtful and deliberate approach to our application, judiciously considering both public sentiment and the actual merits of the request,” said Paul Josephson, chairman of the Charter School Board of Trustees, in a statement., The decision will allow the school to have a weighted lottery admission to attract more low-income students., The expansion proposal was opposed by Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane and the Board of Education, which had argued the expansion would mean an extra $1.16 million more a year it would have to provide the 348 student Charter School, on top of the roughly $5 million that comes from local tax dollars., In a statement, Cochrane called the commissioner’s decision “deeply disappointing.” He said he and the school board are considering whether to appeal., “Our goal will always be to do what is in the best interest of our students and of the broader Princeton community,” he said., “This expansion and this decision is outrageous,” said school board president Patrick Sullivan by phone Thursday. “It is vandalism. We will fight it with every means at our disposal.”, The expansion proposal touched off an intense debate in Princeton, a town with an uneasy relationship with the Charter School. The school, founded in 1997, has been a flashpoint for controversy for years. Critics resent its very existence, with local tax dollars that otherwise could be for district schools going to the Charter School. Supporters say the Charter, a public school operating outside the jurisdiction of the school board, provides parents with a needed option for their children., For his part, Josephson touched on the dispute and said the enrollment increase “will have minimal financial impact to the school district.”, “It is unfortunate that school funding laws put our public schools at odds at moments like these,” he said, “and we reiterate our call that PPS work with us to find a legislative solution that makes us allies in the cause of better public education.”, For his part, Cochrane took the other view. The district is concerned that the commissioner’s ruling “will affect our long-term ability” to provide students “with the outstanding academic and co-curricular experiences they deserve.”, The proposal has led both the school district and the Charter School to sue each other in state Superior Court claiming the respective school boards had violated the state law on public meetings, saw the Princeton Council urge Harrington to reject the proposal and even saw Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy oppose the expansion. Murphy’s campaign counsel is also Josephson, a lawyer., That the issue took place in the backyard of Save Our Schools NJ, an organization critical of charter schools, added another wrinkle to the drama. Mayor Liz Lempert, who helped start that group, opposed the Charter School expansion. She said Thursday that the commissioner’s ruling spoke “strongly to the need to reform how decisions about charter schools are made at the state level.”, “It’s outrageous, given the public outcry from Princeton, that the decision was made not only to expand enrollment at the Charter School but that there was no explanation given,” she said. “I continue to be concerned about the impact it’s going to have to the district’s ability to adequately fund class activities and programs in the rest of the district.”

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