PRINCETON: Charter School seeks recusals from three planning board members


Princeton Charter School

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The Princeton Charter School wants two Princeton council members and a school board member who sit on the town planning board to recuse themselves from an application that PCS has to install temporary classroom trailers.
The request, made by the school’s lawyer to Planning Board attorney Allen D. Porter, was directed at Councilman Tim Quinn, Council President Jenny Crumiller and board of education member Fern Spruill, in seeking to have them step aside.
“We have asked that that take place,” said PCS board president Paul Josephson by phone Tuesday.
The school’s rationale is based on steps that the three of them have taken against PCS. In January, Quinn and Crumiller voted for a council resolution urging the Christie administration to deny a request by the Charter School to add 76 more students. Spruill, meanwhile, is on a school board that is fighting the Charter School in court to overturn that approval, which the state’s top education official granted in February.
“And it would be just inappropriate for anybody to sit in judgment under those circumstances,” Josephson said.
The request comes with the Charter School scheduled to go before the Planning Board July 26 for a hearing on the trailers.
For his part, Porter said Tuesday that the school’s lawyer had raised the recusal issue with him and that it would be addressed at the meeting in two weeks. Ultimately, it will be up to the three members to decide if they step aside.
Reached in Pennsylvania, Quinn said Tuesday that he would follow what his lawyer tells him.
“If Allen sees a conflict or a potential conflict then I would abide by his advice,” Quinn said.
For her part, Crumiller said Monday that if the school asks her to recuse, “I will.”
Spruill could not be reached for comment.
“I think people always get a fair shake with the planning board,” said Mayor Liz Lempert, who appoints the board members, when asked Monday about the issue. “I think everybody who serves on that board takes their responsibilities really seriously and understands that it’s not a policy-making board when they’re hearing applications like that.”
But asked if he would go ahead with the hearing should the three of them refuse to step aside, Josephson said: “Time doesn’t permit us the luxury. We will proceed with the hearing, and we’ll see what happens if they don’t recuse themselves.”
He raised the prospect of having to litigate the matter.
“It’s dangerous to predict where this is going to go,” Josephson said, “but it’s fair to say that if the planning board acts in a way that will prevent us from putting these trailers up in time for school to open, we are going to have to look at our judicial options.”
The Charter School needs the trailers for September, when 54 new students enter. To accommodate them, the school intends to move two sections of fourth-graders into temporary trailers located at the top of the campus, according to documents the school filed with the municipal planning office in June.
More long term, PCS is considering constructing a new building, adding on to existing buildings or some combination of the two.
The expansion is being done to create space for a student population that will swell to 424 students by September 2018 and for space for special education programs, Josephson said. More concrete details are due out later this year.
“We hope to release a plan at some point in the fall,” he said. “Our architects are in the process of looking it over and working on how we can best and most economically accommodate these kids.”
Any project would be financed through a bank loan, with construction eyed for 2018, he said.
The planning board will not be helped at the July meeting by town planning director Lee O. Solow, who said this week that he was recusing himself from the Charter School school case. He offered no reason for his decision.