Princeton school board considers extending high school relationship with Cranbury


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Princeton Public Schools Board of Education President Patrick Sullivan said this week he would like to see the board vote “very soon” to extend the send-receive relationship Princeton has with Cranbury.

The current 10-year-deal between the parties runs through June 2020 and representatives of the two school districts are looking to renew the agreement for 10 years after that date.

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The Cranbury Township School District pays Princeton tuition to send its high school students to Princeton High School. For the current 2017-18 school year, that amount is $4.8 million.

Princeton Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane said on April 25 that he would anticipate board members voting on the renewal of the send-receive relationship at its May 22 meeting. Cochrane has said he supports continuing the arrangement with Cranbury, a relationship that has existed since 1991.

The Cranbury school board would also have to vote on the new agreement.

“Once Princeton has voted on the contract, our board will approve it at the following board meeting,” Cranbury Chief School Administrator and Principal Susan L. Genco said on April 25.

In Princeton, district administrators have faced questions about Princeton’s relationship with Cranbury, given the student overcrowding at the high school and the prospect of an $129.8 million facilities referendum that would include $56 million to renovate and add classroom space at the high school. Residents may vote on that referendum on Oct. 2.

As of earlier this month, 276 students from Cranbury were attending Princeton High School, which has an enrollment of 1,605 students, according to district records. The school’s capacity is 1,423 students.

In a presentation at the April 24 board meeting, Princeton officials sought to show that ending a send-receive relationship has to meet a high threshold and would have a financial impact on the district’s budget.

Vittorio S. LaPira, the district’s attorney, explained the steps that would have to occur to end the relationship. He said one district would have to apply to the state Commissioner of Education to end the arrangment.

“If one board wants to terminate that relationship, it has to initiate legal action against the other board,” LaPira said.

He said a feasibility study would have to be done, a process that would involve hiring education experts to weigh whether a divorce is feasible. He said the analysis would consider the “educational and financial implications for both districts,” the impact on the quality of education for students, and the effect on the racial composition of the districts.

“It’s a significant undertaking for the experts to look at all the information and make determinations about whether or not there would be significant impacts on these areas,” LaPira said. “If any one of them has a substantial negative impact, the relationship cannot be severed.”

Another consideration is that there would have to be another high school to accept the students of the sending district, he said.

Later in the meeting, board members Beth Behrend and Greg Stankiewicz provided an analysis of the demographic and financial impacts of the Cranbury relationship. They reported that Cranbury’s tuition of $4.8 million ($17,191 per student) is the second largest revenue item in the district’s budget.

“So without Cranbury, our budget base would contract by almost $5 million if you took that away,” Behrend said.

The tuition rate is lower than the per pupil cost of $19,047, their report showed.

They also found that without Cranbury students, the high school would still be over its enrollment capacity. They looked ahead to eight years’ worth of enrollment projections, beginning with the 2018-19 school year.

In every year but one, enrollment would still exceed the school’s capacity of 1,423 students, regardless of whether students from Cranbury were enrolled. In 2019-20, the high school is projected to have 1,589 students, a total that goes down to 1,491 if two grades of Cranbury students were no longer in the building.

“So this was just to show that even if Cranbury were not to be at the high school, we would still be out of space,” Behrend said.

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