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PRINCETON: School district moves to ‘design’ stage of bond referendum

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The Princeton school district has moved to the “design” phase of a facilities bond referendum that official hope to put on the ballot next year.
The school board, in a closed session meeting Tuesday night, and its architect examined options for building projects that a referendum would fund. Officials have talked of making an addition to the overcrowded Princeton High School and reopening Valley Road School for a school for fifth-and sixth-graders, and pointed to needs for athletic fields and improvements at other schools.
School board Vice President Dafna Kendal, the chairwoman of the board’s facilities committee, said Wednesday that if the district reopens Valley Road School, central office administrators and staff would have to be moved to different offices.
“Nothing’s set in stone,” she said, “but that’s the direction were moving” in.
She offered that officials are considering make Valley Road a “community school” that would include resources for the public. In some places, that’s included having offices for a doctor or a washer and dryer, she said.
She also confirmed the district is looking at “a couple of locations” to acquire property for athletic fields and other needs, but she declined to elaborate.
At this point, officials do not have a preliminary dollar amount for how much everything will cost. They intend to seek financial help from area nonprofits, like the Princeton University, whose employees send their children to the public schools.
“We will be reaching out to many parties to see who can contribute to the bond referendum, including the not for profits in our town and everyone else who has an interest in the public school system,” board President Patrick Sullivan said Tuesday.
Cranbury has had a send-receive relationship with Princeton since 1991, with eighth-graders from Cranbury School going to Princeton High. As for Cranbury being asked to contribute, Kendal said: “We have a responsibility to Princeton taxpayers.”
Sullivan said Cranbury is “severely limited by law as to what they can contribute to an out-of-town facility. But we will look at all funding options as part of this bond referendum.”
Cranbury Chief School Administrator Susan Genco could not be reached for comment.
As for next steps, Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane said Wednesday that the district wants to gather input from staff, faculty and the public “as we really pull together the design components of the referendum.”
Officials have said they hope to have the ballot question in September 2018, which would mean the district would need to submit an initial plan in March to the state Department of Education.
“So over the course of the next few months, we will be meeting with people to develop the design ideas,” Cochrane said.
At the school board meeting next week, Cochrane is expected to begin making the public case for why the projects are necessary. He said he would touch on what he termed the “drivers” of the referendum, including rising enrollment and learning needs.

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