The budget is the most pressing challenge we face. Without a fair and sustainable budget, we won’t be able to support any of our students, staff or programs. As chair of the finance committee next year I will work with our administration to increase all our reserve accounts to cover future emergencies. The finance committee and administration need to understand all costs associated with salaries, healthcare and school expenses. Supervisors, Principals and administrators need to be held accountable for their budgets, they need to review and approve all overtime. I support creating committees, with staff, parents and community members, tasked with improvement to PPS, but do not have an end goal of recommending a consultant. Many consulting costs are not focused directly on our students, especially our most vulnerable students. Last year I pointed out that our Travel Budget was overstated, I will push to have the travel budget match the actual travel expenses, therefore reducing our overall budget. I also helped highlight that Cranbury had not been paying it full share of special ed expenses. I will push to reduce the referendum by not adding parking spots on Franklin St. We have extra spaces at the JW parking lot, and we should work with the town to find parking along the neighborhood streets. I am concerned about the health and wellness of our students and know that we need excellent teachers, guidance counselors, vice principals, principals and coaches to support all our student’s needs. Without a strong budget we won’t be able to support our students needs.
We don’t need to cut personnel or programs to balance our budget. We need to work smarter with the funds we have. We need to reduce our utilities costs, electric; turning lights off and upgrading light bulbs, water; fixing leaking bathroom sinks and toilets, gas; monitor class room temperatures so we are not wasting heat or AC and fixing all drafts in our windows and doors. Only replace text books when they wear out. Eliminate substitutes at the high school, except where absolutely necessary. Re-imagine our transportation system to reduced costs. Take advantage of more on-line resources for Professional Development to reduce our travel costs. Approve all field trips based on their total cost to the district. Reduce our healthcare costs by increasing enrollment in Health Savings Accounts. Add teaching responsibility to supervisory staff to manage costs of fluctuating course demands. As staff retire, review having some required classes taught in the auditorium as a lecture class. Evaluate that all overtime and stipend payments support the districts strategic goals. Look deeper into shared services with the town, charter school, university and local private schools.
After the equity report was released there was a lot of discussion between the board, administrators, and staff on next steps. In 2018 the board created an ad-hoc equity committee, and in 2019 the board approved making equity a standing committee. I am a member of the Equity committee and received equity training last week.
Equity has been weaved into the daily life in the Princeton schools. Staff have been trained and there are equity teams in each school. Restorative circles have been implemented at the high school, to assist students in understanding and taking responsibility for their actions versus being suspended. The district started a new preschool program this month. The preschool program will assist many of our at risk students at a very early age, which will expose them to learning opportunities like their peers.
Equity implementation will be on going for many years. It is not just one thing, but a new way to look and do things. PPS is making steps and will continue recruiting teachers of color and offering racial literacy. The Equity committee has been on a listening tour this year and I look forward to taking working with the administration next year.
We need shared services on parking around the high & middle schools. The referendum includes parking spaces on Franklin St. I would eliminate this from the referendum & have the town & school work together to designate more staff parking on neighborhood’s streets. We’d save the cost of building parking spaces, & keep more of our land green.
I’d like to explore composting with the University & recycling & garbage pickup with the town & University. I’d like to explore shared service opportunities with the town and schools’ facilities departments, by sharing equipment or obtaining joint maintenance contracts for plumbing and electrical. We should have our business managers meet to review available savings with cleaning supplies, food services and office supplies.
We should start collaboration with the schools & public libraries by sharing books. Both entities could reduce purchasing new library books every year.
We have started discussions with the Charter school about shared & joint services. PPS should start collaborating with the private schools in town & discuss saving around facilities, transportation, sports equipment & uniforms, office & cleaning supplies & food service.
The Princeton Public Schools face challenges in a number of areas: equity, achievement, budgets, wellness, facility planning and sustainability, and each will require solutions that are creative, thoughtful, well-researched, student-focused and collaborative. To address such a wide array of challenges, the Board will have to work closely with our administrators, teachers, and community members, and also hear the voices of our students and families. It is only after a process that is transparent and considers the input of all stakeholders that the community will have confidence in the BOE’s decisions.
Last year’s initial facilities referendum rollout demonstrated the need for communication, community partnership, research, and planning. I led more than a dozen tours of PHS for our community, bringing more than 500 members of our community through the high school as the BOE coalesced around a scaled-back referendum that addressed some of the most urgent needs of our aging buildings. Although parents and community members expressed different opinions about priorities for facilities improvements and expansions, participants consistently told me the tour provided them with a much more informed understanding of the challenges the referendum was intended to address. We all want a school board that can engage in a decision-making process that is an example to our students of how to have a respectful dialogue among people with divergent opinions, how to use evidence to support thoughtful decisions, and how to build consensus for important decisions. The Board’s process also must acknowledge and respect our diverse tax base while striving to always put students first.
As Joe Biden said, “Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” It is imperative that the PPS budget align with the district’s mission statement and with the goals of equity and “knowing every child.” I support looking at the operating budget in ways to prevent any future cuts affecting our classrooms teachers. With a new Business Administrator leading the process, a “0-based” budget starting point, and a longer, more open process for collaboration with our board, the public, our teachers and administrators, and the Board should strive to identify as many “non-essential” savings as possible.
After all non personnel savings have been exhausted, areas to examine for efficiencies might include administration or support staff while making sure savings from retirements and resignations are maximized. Areas of cooperation and shared service savings must be examined as quickly as possible, while the board and administrators do a deep dive into the operational budget for any potential non personnel savings.
The district is making efforts to respond to the troubling findings of the equity report, but to make real progress will take years of sustained focus to ensure both measurable and atmospheric change. It is troubling to read how many students and families of color and those in our LGBTQ community have for many years experienced a district that is uncaring to them. Ensuring our Special Education community is fully included in these discussions moving forward will only help to make our schools more inclusive and connected.
The District’s Equity report has to lead us to clear goals to remediate the findings. A list of the steps taken so far includes establishment of equity teams, changes in our curriculum to explore historical racism and books that connect with all students, ongoing professional development and changes in hiring practices that will allow all our students to see themselves in our staff. Restorative justice training to ensure that our school is a place of education and tolerance is also an important step to build trust in our community.
I support the establishment of an equity dashboard that is data driven- measuring graduation outcomes, suspensions, test scores, participation in advanced classes, truancy, response to complaints and special education breakdowns. These data points can help measure our progress, and when the voices of our students, families and staff confirm a culture change, then can we celebrate the data.
I am excited that the Board of Education has moved forward with community partners to find shared services to help solve our budget shortfall. For example, PPS collaborated with the local Y to address attendance issues and now the Pre-K expansion. Other success stories include PPS collaboration with the Princeton Public Library to reduce technology expenses of both. Working with the district, PEF and The Princeton Children’s Fund funded summer programs that focused on academic achievement for students living in financial insecurity. It is also hopeful that ongoing negotiations and lobbying with the Princeton Charter School could lead to shared savings for both districts. Cooperative purchases or shared use of specialized equipment with the town is another area that has begun to be explored. A look at athletic field use throughout the town might be another area for the district to find savings. Partnerships for needed upgrades in school technology is another area to be explored as a comprehensive district technology plan is developed. Sustainability projects are another area to try and partner with local entities to find concrete and more immediate solutions.
The district is facing many challenges, including tight budgets, rising enrollment and aging facilities, in a tax environment that limits deductions for state and local taxes.
PPS must look for sources of revenue other than taxpayers. For example, during my prior board term, I raised $800,000 in voluntary payments from tax-exempt institutions that send children to PPS. I will continue my efforts to negotiate additional voluntary payments for the district.
Steps have been taken to address the rising enrollment. During my prior board term, I supported the $26.9 million referendum which will add new classrooms at PHS and JW, expanded guidance space (PHS), expanded nursing space (JW), and additional indoor exercise space (PHS). As a board member, I will work to ensure that all of the referendum projects are implemented timely, have thorough oversight, and are on budget, with frequent communications to all stakeholders. It is imperative that this referendum be well implemented to gain the trust of the community before asking the taxpayers for money for additional projects.
PHS was built in 1929, and all other schools in the 1950’s. As a board member, I heard frequent complaints about mold, air quality, mice, and other issues. We must ensure that our buildings are environmentally safe for students and staff. I will do this by implementing periodic testing of all buildings and increased maintenance oversight to ensure they are free of toxins and vermin.
I don't support making cuts to teaching personnel and programs, especially at a time of rising enrollment and larger class sizes. Some classes at Princeton High School have 40 students this school year. I think that with proper analysis and planning, cuts to teaching personnel and programs can be avoided altogether.
Instead, cuts can be made to administrative and secretarial staff, lower spending on technology, and cutting waste. An example of wasteful spending is the spend for composting; the district currently spends $9,000 per month for composting removal, but not every school has a composting program. This money could be better used towards educating our students until a more permanent solution is found.
During my prior term on the board, in 2017, Princeton Public Schools initiated an educational equity audit of the district’s culture and curriculum. The results were concerning; students of color, students that identify as gender non-conforming and LQBTQIAi students, among others, raised concerns about their experience in our schools.
In 2017, almost 50% of the students suspended were students of color, and approximately 50% of the students suspended were students with special needs. The administration is working to educate staff about microaggressions and unconscious biases. This work is being done through professional development and other training.
One way to ensure progress is being made, is to keep an eye on suspension rates and other disciplinary measures to make sure that professional development and other trainings such as SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) training are making strides in helping teachers understand and work on their unconscious biases.
Another component of the equity report is the participation of children of color and special education students in higher level courses. The equity report indicated that these students were unlikely to be represented in AP and higher level courses. This is an area in which I would like to see the district focus, with early interventions to shore up important skills, and later through support for these students in the higher level courses.
Collaboration and shared services are often cited as a means of solving a budget shortfall. Please describe a collaboration or shared service that has worked well. Do you see opportunities for collaboration or shared services that have not yet been explored?
I support shared services as a cost-saving measure. One option PPS should explore is shared services with other school districts. For example, the district could share administrative services, such as accounting, HR, and other functions. This would help PPS reduce expenses not related to teaching or impacting learning, New Jersey is offering incentives to school districts to explore shared services. In September,2019, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy allocated $10 million to promote shared services and government consolidation. PPS may be able to apply for some of this money to look into the viability of shared services with other districts.
I also support shared services with the municipality. I think trash/recycling/composting and snow removal would be areas where cost-savings could be achieved.
I support looking at shared services in any area that does not impact learning or affect the quality of instruction.
My priority issues are to:
Increase Equity and Inclusion: This year, we are expanding our Pre-Kindergarten services; undertaking an independent outside evaluation of our Special Education services; and instituting restorative practices in all schools to move away from punitive discipline and focus on strengthening schools as communities.
Reduce Student Stress: Our students face levels of stress far higher than in the past, as we discovered in surveying our high school students. We responded by instituting a later school start time and modifying the schedule at the High School. Going forward, we need to work with students as we craft a new, State-mandated mental health component to our K-12 health curriculum.
Strengthen District Finances: Our district faces an ongoing funding shortfall brought on by the State’s multi-year failure to fulfill its funding obligations; rapidly rising student enrollments; and increasing costs. In response, we have identified new revenue opportunities and implemented multiple years of cost saving measures. We are working with the municipality to explore shared services and we are asking the public and staff to submit cost-savings ideas. We also need to spearhead change at the State level-- I support Assemblyman Zwicker’s legislation to have the State fund charter schools directly rather than through school district budgets. Such an outcome would save our District around $6.5 million a year while keeping the Charter School fiscally whole.
Plan with the Community: We are implementing the $26.9 million 2018 referendum to improve security and wellness in each of our schools and are providing the public with ongoing updates. However, our student population continues to grow (over 10% in the last 6 years). Now is the time to engage the community in planning for how to shape the future of our schools. Together, we can jointly identify cost-efficient solutions, avoiding unnecessary costs brought on by waiting too long to act.
If the District were to face a deficit in next year’s budget, I would support using the same principles that the Board and Superintendent used when developing this year’s budget—identify possible savings and new sources of revenue first; keep whole any course offerings and services that the District is mandated to provide; reduce staff only as a last resort; and focus on maintaining services that most directly impact our students, by re-allocating existing staffing or sharing staff with outside entities.
How do we proceed going forward? By identifying additional savings; being as creative as possible in collaborating with outside nonprofits to provide additional services for students; and working together to unlock additional State aid and other resources that our students deserve. For example, over the summer, we joined a coalition that helped convince the Legislature to add a one-time increase in Extraordinary Special Aid funding, providing $1.7 million more to the District. While too late to help balance the current budget, the funds will be used to replenish District reserve funds. Such outcomes help protect student services without adding to residents’ local tax burden.
The 2018 Equity Audit provided an independent examination of our District, highlighting positive aspects but also pointing to continued disparities. I believe the District is making progress on the Audit’s recommendations:1) Recruit a more diverse staff: almost 40% of recent hires have been educators of color; 2) Continue to provide teachers and administrators with professional development around culturally responsive teaching; 3) Build internal leadership capacity: every school now has its own Equity Team to provide in-school guidance; 4) Build community and relationships: I encouraged the District’s efforts to institute restorative practices in each of our schools, providing students and teachers the opportunity to listen to and learn from each other, as well as to make amends for hurtful actions. Research shows how effective such approaches can be, allowing our schools to deal more quickly with unintended aggressions and slights before they become larger confrontations. I also applaud the changes in curriculum, including new courses on tolerance and racial literacy.
It is important to hold ourselves accountable as a District. I am proud that we are establishing an equity data dashboard. It will consist of a range of data that we will track on an ongoing basis, providing evidence of the progress the District is making in reducing discrepancies in student achievement; participation in AP courses; and graduation, chronic absenteeism, and suspension rates.
Collaborations and shared services are creative ways of using existing resources more efficiently, creating win-win situations for our students and community. For example, the District is a member of the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Alliance for Competitive Energy Services (ACES). This program involves over 500 school districts, allowing the District to purchase energy in bulk at a cheaper price. Over ten years, the program has saved school districts a cumulative total of $225 million on their energy bills.
The District utilizes many such collaborations, but I believe that we always need to seek additional opportunities. That is why I helped implement a shared services study between the District and our municipality. Over the next seven months, working together with a nonprofit consulting firm with a strong track record in undertaking such studies, we will be seeking to identify additional possible savings, along with opportunities to deliver services more efficiently for our students, families, and members of the larger community.