By Philip Sean Curran
A $26.9 million facilities referendum for the Princeton Public Schools was approved by voters on Dec. 11 in a vote officials said was a necessary investment in public education.
The ballot question passed with 2,186 “yes” votes to 1,613 “no” votes, according to the municipal clerk’s office.
“I’m pleased a majority of the voters approved the referendum and I’m pleased for our kids and our staff that the projects that are going to be funded will help ensure safe, secure, healthy learning environments for our students and staff,” Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane said in response to the outcome.
The referendum will enable the district to make security, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades and other improvements to its schools, for what administrators called the “most immediate and essential projects.”
The projects include adding four classrooms at Princeton High School, where an enrollment of about 1,600 students has the school above its capacity.
District administrators said they welcomed the result of the voting.
“I’m happy for the community,” Board of Education President Patrick Sullivan said. “I think they did the right thing. We have an obligation to support our children and public education is an important part of our civic fabric. I’m really happy people stepped up in this uncertain economic and uncertain tax environment to do the right thing by our kids.”
“This is a great outcome for the students and staff who inhabit our buildings every day,” board member Dafna Kendal said. “Each project was designed to improve the environment for staff and students or to address concerns brought by members of our community who live near our schools.”
District administrators said if the referendum passed, school taxes would increase by $56.84 on the average assessed home of $837,074 starting in 2020.
Officials have talked about having another referendum in 2019, but they have not released a dollar amount for what they have in mind.
One incoming board member said on Dec. 11 that he did not think there will be another ballot question that soon.
Board member-elect Daniel Dart said that based on conversations he has had with district administrators, community leaders and other residents, “I don’t think, as a practical matter, there will be another referendum in 2019.
“I think we will study it, but in the end, I believe the board will conclude … that we would need to wait before doing another referendum,” Dart said.
The referendum voters approved on Dec. 11 was a smaller version of larger proposals the district had considered that would have paid for a building new school, buying property and completing other projects. With student enrollment growing and expected to grow further in the upcoming years, officials had talked of needing more space.
“This referendum was an example of a high level of community engagement,” Cochrane said. “I’m grateful to the many people who, regardless of their views about the referendum, really made time to learn about it, to visit our buildings, to attend presentations, to read through materials and to make their voices heard.”
In Cranbury, which has a send-receive relationship with the Princeton Public Schools through which Cranbury residents of high school age may attend Princeton High School, one school official reacted to the outcome of the referendum vote.
“I would like to congratulate the Princeton board on all their hard work and tremendous effort throughout this process,” Cranbury Board of Education President Karen Callahan said.