The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education and the Princeton Charter School Board of Trustees have settled their legal battle over the enrollment expansion the public charter school obtained in 2017 to add 76 students.
The school district agreed to abandon its appeal of the approval the state Commissioner of Education granted for the charter school’s enrollment growth and to drop a separate lawsuit it filed alleging the charter school board violated the state Open Public Meetings Act.
The charter school agreed to let the school district keep $30,000 in each of the next two school years, for a total of $60,000, that it would have had to provide the charter school. As a public school, the charter school receives the bulk of its funds through local tax dollars the school district provides out of its annual budget.
“I think one of the things that we, as a board, had decided was that there was, I think, a need, giving all the other things that are happening in this world, that we should find a way to come together and settle this case if we can get a couple of things that are important to us,” Board of Education President Patrick Sullivan said at the Sept. 25 board meeting.
The Princeton board voted 10-0 for the settlement. The charter school’s board president, Maryellen McQuade, initially declined to comment on Sept. 25, but subsequently said a news release would be issued.
“At our last board meeting we voted to delegate final authorization to myself,” she said in a text message on Sept. 26.
Both sides had been reluctant to discuss the settlement talks.
Asked on Sept. 14 if the charter board had approved at its meeting that week a settlement with the school district, McQuade said in a text message that “a detailed settlement agreement was not voted upon.”
A resolution from that Sept. 12 meeting that McQuade and other charter trustees voted for said the board “approves the settlement agreement in the currently pending appeals adverse to Princeton Public Schools in accordance with the terms therein, subject to further attorney negotiations and final authorization by the Princeton Charter School Board President.”
As for other terms of their deal, the settlement also said the two sides would meet, at least twice a year, in the current and next two academic years, “to discuss any issues affecting the parties’ relationship and potential collaboration opportunities and cost savings measures.”
In particular, the two sides agreed they would explore “the possibility of advocating for potential legislative changes to the charter school funding formula that would be mutually beneficial to both parties.”
For the current 2018-19 school year, the school district will provide the charter school with $6.3 million, money that comes out of the school district’s budget and gets counted toward spending limits, namely the 2 percent cap, the district must abide by. When the charter school’s enrollment expansion was proposed, school district officials said adding 76 students translated into an additional $1.1 million the school district would have to provide.
The legal battle pitted two sides with a history of acrimony, in a community that gave birth to the group Save Our Schools NJ, a group critical of charter schools.
“First of all, I’m thrilled we were able to reach a point where we can put the past dissension behind us and really move forward in the spirit of collaboration,” Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane said at the board meeting. “I look forward to the kinds of conversations and collaborations that will benefit the students in both places.”