For our childrens’ sake, we should support the full referendum

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To the editor:

When my family moved to Jefferson Road in 2011, there were no young children on our block. Today there are 15, ranging from the seven-month-old next door to the fifth grader across the street. Our block is living the demographic changes happening in Princeton. Young families are moving in, many of them attracted to our town’s reputation for strong public schools. That reputation – and, most importantly, the educational futures of our children – now hang in the balance.

The board of education has crafted a comprehensive $129.6 million referendum proposal to bring our facilities into the 21st century and to make space for the 700 additional children expected to enter the district by 2027. Now they need to put it up for a public vote. But some squeaky wheels have gotten the board’s attention and they may vote to scale back the referendum by more than a third at their Oct. 9 meeting.

This new proposal would have two questions: the first ($27 million) would include upgrades to security, HVAC, and mechanical systems at all schools, and the second ($55 million) would include the building of a new 5-6 school to alleviate overcrowding at the elementary schools and John Witherspoon Middle School. Any major renovation of Princeton High School ($47 million) would be shoved off to an unspecified later date. Parsing out the referendum this way sends a message to the community that overcrowding is not a real issue.

Have you visited PHS lately? Students can barely get to class on time because of the sheer numbers circulating through the narrow, 1920s-era hallways. Kids are losing out on popular computer science classes and chemistry labs because there’s no room in which to teach them. In fact, PHS is already nearly 200 students over capacity, and the middle school is 125 students over capacity – and growing. If we do nothing, my second grader may enter a middle school in 2022 that is 48 percent over capacity. In 2027, when he is a junior in high school, PHS may be 39 percent over capacity. Meanwhile, our board would be consumed by putting together yet another referendum for another year, rather than focusing on equity, improving curricula and hiring and training teachers. The reputation of Princeton’s schools would suffer, and potentially our home values too.

I urge the board to allow Princeton voters to decide which improvements to fund by putting the full proposal, including a major renovation of PHS, up to a public vote. Please join the 400 residents who’ve signed the Yes for Princeton Schools petition at www.yes4princetonschools.org if you also wish to have a voice in how our schools grow.

If you’re undecided, please go see for yourself and be part of the discussion. Take a parent-led tour of PHS on Oct. 6 (tours leave from the flagpole at 9:15 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.) or attend the Oct. 11 community info session at 7:30 p.m. in the JW auditorium.

The kids are coming. Voters need to decide in what kind of schools we will educate them.

Nicole Pezold-Hancock

Princeton