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A few weeks after a Princeton Public Schools board member offered an “olive branch” to the Princeton Charter School, a settlement negotiation process between the two parties is now underway. The negotiation process seeks to resolve the lawsuit initiated by PPS, which asserted that PCS had violated New Jersey’s Open Public Meeting Act during a meeting about expansion.

The relationship between PCS and PPS has been contentious for some time. Concerned parents founded PCS in 1997 because they were unsatisfied with the education offered by the public schools. A debate erupted in late 2016 when PCS submitted a request to the New Jersey Department of Education to expand enrollment by 76 students within the next two years. PCS also planned to add a weighted lottery, where students will be selected for admission randomly. Students whose families receive certain types of public assistance, however, would be entered into the lottery twice.

PCS has already added 54 of these 76 students and is looking to enter the remaining 22 later this year. The weighted lottery system is also now in place.

At a March 20 board meeting, PPS board member Dafna Kendal made a suggestion for a deal: PPS would cease its litigation opposing PCS expansion if PCS agreed to decrease its number of admitted students.

At the meeting, Kendal said that she believed the measures she proposed would be cost-saving for the district. She declined to comment further to the Daily Princetonian, citing the ongoing settlement process which prevents her from making comment.

However, Kendal did add that she hopes the “community comes together” as talks for a settlement move forward. She also emphasized that she was speaking for herself and not on behalf of the rest of the board.

Paul Josephson, president of the PCS Board of Trustees, declined to comment, also citing the ongoing negotiations.

“Because of the ongoing settlement process, the parties have agreed, at Judge Peterson’s suggestion, to not discuss these matters in the press,” Josephson said.

Josephson had previously told that the charter school would be “open to any conversation.” At the same time, he emphasized that the spot of any child offered admission to PCS via its lottery process “will be protected.”

Dudley Sipprelle, chairman of the Princeton Republican Committee, told the ‘Prince’ that, as an advocate of school choice, he hopes a settlement would not affect PCS. Sipprelle said that he believes the fate of PCS expansion should be decided based upon the school’s merits and not be influenced by PPS intervention. The mere fact that the state of New Jersey approved PCS expansion, he explained, reflects the school’s quality.

“That’s the way a free market economy works. The person or the organization that gives the best services is going to have the highest demand for its product,” Sipprelle continued. “The fact of the matter is that more people are applying to the Charter School than they can squeeze in, which is why they asked and got approval for expansion.”

Sipprelle also disagrees with Kendal’s argument at the March 20 school board meeting. For Sipprelle, a decision for PCS to admit fewer students would be costly.

“[PPS] is avoiding the fact that those students still have to be educated,” explained Sipprelle. “If they were to come back into the regular public schools, they’d have to go back to [PPS] classes, and the expenses of the public school … are much higher per pupil than the Charter School’s expenses.”

There is no indication of the specifics of the settlement at the time of publication. 

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