By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
For Princeton, there about five million reasons why it makes sense for the school district to continue accepting students from Cranbury into Princeton High School.
The district is paid $4.8 million for the current school year to educate 265 Cranbury students, making the town a sort of “cash cow” for Princeton, in the words of one Cranbury official.
Yet at a time when the Princeton district is looking to seek voter approval for a bond referendum to improve school buildings including a high school addition and facing growing enrollment, there is a sentiment in corners of town to drop Cranbury.
Princeton officials are not deaf to those questions, but they believe they have the right response.
“We understand that in a year, when there may be a bond referendum, questions will arise as to the nature of that relationship and its value to the Princeton Public School District,” school board president Patrick Sullivan said Tuesday. “But I’m convinced that, when taxpayers get all the facts, they will agree that it’s valuable to our operating budget to continue the Cranbury relationship.”
The two communities have had the send-receive relationship since 1991, according to Susan Genco, chief school administrator at Cranbury School. Ending it, and thus losing the $4.8 million from Cranbury, would have implications for Princeton.
“The only way to cut that kind of money out of our budget would be to eliminate staff,” Sullivan said. “Nobody wants to do that.”
Yet while the two towns are separated by a highway and a lake, officials in Cranbury hear the chatter. Cranbury Township Committeeman James "Jay" Taylor said some people in Princeton “don’t want Cranbury there.”
“And then there’s other people in the community that do and they see the financial sense of having it,” he said. “So it’s just a very divisive conversation going on in that community right now.”
Cranbury Township Committeeman Glenn Johnson, the liaison to the Cranbury School Board, said this week that the state Department of Education has an “arduous” process for a receiving district to end a send-receive relationship. For instance, Cranbury would have to be able to send students to a better or equivalent high school.
“The state doesn’t want any community to be left without a high school to send their kids to,” he said during Monday’s Township Committee meeting. “So it’s difficult to break one of those arrangements.”
The topic of Princeton and the relationship even made its way into the local political campaign going on in Cranbury.
The two candidates for Township Committee, appearing at a forum on Tuesday, stressed the value of residents being able to send their children to Princeton High School.
Democrat Matt Scott, the father of three, including two sons at the high school, went to back-to-school night there, a few weeks ago, for the first time.
“I just couldn’t believe the quality of the teachers, the quality of the curriculum, the quality of the education that they’re getting,” he said. “It’s such an amazing place.”
He believed it critical to “do what whatever we have to do to maintain that relationship.” He called the arrangement “vital” to Cranbury, something that makes the town an attractive place for families to move to, given their children will get to attend a top performing high school.
“When our children graduate from eighth grade, they move to Princeton High School. Need I say more about the benefits of educating our children in Cranbury?” said Republican candidate Nancy Witt.
By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer