The Princeton Public Schools filed a lawsuit against the Princeton Charter School last month, claiming PCS violated the Open Public Meetings Act when its trustees voted to amend its charter to increase enrollment of the school. OPMA is a law that requires all meetings of government bodies be held publicly.
The PCS is a public charter school that educates town children ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade. Last month, at a town hall, the town of Princeton passed a resolution urging the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to deny PCS’s application to expand.
New Jersey Commissioner of Education, Kimberley Harrington, will decide whether to approve or deny the PCS’s expansion application, which would add 76 students to PCS over the course of two years. The PCS Board of Trustees voted in favor of expansion on Nov. 28, 2016.
The question concerns whether the Commissioner can legally consider the application because the PCS application was planned and approved in violation of the OPMA, commonly known as Sunshine Laws, according to a PPS executive summary describing its opposition to PCS's possible expansion.
PCS did not respond to request for comment at the time of publication.
“It is disappointing that the PPS Board is wasting taxpayer dollars on a nuisance lawsuit to harass a public charter school and its families,” said Paul Josephson, President of the PCS Board of Trustees, to Planet Princeton.
PPS takes the stance that the lawsuit is necessary to protect the community taxpayers and students.
PPS Superintendent of Schools, Steve Cochrane, said PPS maintains that “the community was not properly informed that the PCS Trustees were intending to take action to approve an application to increase the school’s enrollment, and that as a result, the court should invalidate that action.”
If the expansion were approved, PPS would be forced to pay an additional $1.2 million each year to the charter school, resulting in teacher and program cuts. The figure amounts to the salaries of approximately 15 teachers.
However, if the expansion is passed, 76 students would be granted admission based on a weighted lottery system that preferences lower-income students, thereby increasing diversity.
Adding further contention is PPS's assertion that the charter school lottery system’s low-income threshold is higher than that recognized by the New Jersey Department of Education, according to its executive summary.
“PCS’s past enrollment expansions have actually resulted in decreases in its enrollment of economically disadvantaged students, not the increase PCS claims will result from its proposed new round of expansion,” reads the statement.
Other factors leading PPS to oppose the charter school’s expansion application include potential increases in class sizes, the large financial burden it places on taxpayers and the schooling system, statutory violations, and overwhelming local opposition.
In a town hall last month, Principal of PCS, Lawrence Patton, noted that the application “will not financially devastate Princeton Public Schools.”
“Do not feed into the ‘us versus them’ narrative,” he added.
In an official response to PCS's application, PPS wrote, “Even as we pursue legal actions to challenge PCS’s proposal, we remain hopeful that we can accomplish something truly positive and educationally advantageous for our students and our community.”
If the application is approved, 54 of the 76 students will be phased in this year. If not, PCS will have to wait two years to reapply.