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Princeton school district, charter school still wrangling over lawsuit

The leader of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education this week expressed a desire to resolve a legal battle the district has been fighting over the Princeton Charter School’s addition of more than 70 students.

The charter school educates children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Representatives for the school district and the charter school would not elaborate on settlement discussions or the substance of their respective offers to end litigation that has caused each to spend well more than $100,000 in legal bills.

The Princeton school district has gone to court, in separate lawsuits, fighting the Princeton Charter School and the state Department of Education, which approved plans in 2017 for the charter school to add 76 students phased in over two years.

School district officials warned of the consequences for the district if it had to provide an additional $1.1 million annually to the charter school, which, as a public school, is outside the control of the school board, but gets most of its funds through local taxes.

The school board “would like to reach a settlement with the charter school as soon as possible,” board President Patrick Sullivan said on Sept. 4. He declined to say what it would take for the district to drop its fight.

“I hope we can find agreeable terms to reach a settlement,” Sullivan said on Sept. 5.

Paul Josephson, past president of the Princeton Charter School Board of Trustees and its current secretary, said on Sept. 4 that settlement proposals have gone back and forth. He declined to elaborate.

“That’s all I can say,” Josephson said. “The process goes on. And I share Pat’s sentiment.”
He later said, “we’re hopeful that we’ll get to a good resolution for everybody.”

The timing of their comments come as a new school year begins. The school district is in the midst of trying to have a $129.6 million facilities referendum, a process that has consumed much attention of district officials.

School board members have declined to say publicly whether there are different views within the board among those who favor taking a more hard-line approach to the charter school and those who favor a more conciliatory tone. At least six board members would have to vote for a settlement.

“I personally would like to see this resolved so we can start to put this behind us,” board member Dafna Kendal said on Sept. 5. She declined to comment further.

When the charter school’s administrators sought approval for the enrollment expansion, opposition ran high in the community, in a town that has had an uneasy relationship with the charter school.

Current board members Jess Deutsch and Beth Behrend, then still private citizens, were among those who publicly opposed the idea.

Even the Princeton Council took sides in the debate by siding with opponents of the charter school’s expansion. Mayor Liz Lempert subsequently called on the Murphy administration this year to review the state’s decision from 2017.

Princeton was the birthplace of the group Save our Schools NJ, an organization critical of charter schools and started by, among others, Lempert and Rutgers professor Julia Sass Rubin, the wife of current board member Greg Stankiewicz.

Stankiewicz said on Sept. 5 that he could not comment on an issue that is still under litigation.

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