Letters to the Editor, March 13


School board replies on Montgomery fee
To the Editor:
We would like to respond to your March 9 editorial, "Thumbs Down to Activity Fee in Montgomery," because it inaccurately describes our current fee proposal and because we strongly disagree that it "threatens the underpinnings of public education." The current proposal, presented at our March 8 budget meeting, is to charge $100 per household with a student in grades 7 through 12 (families on free or reduced-price lunch are exempt).
   Montgomery Township faces a state-imposed, hard cap on tax increases of 4 percent. The 3 percent increase in state aid will not even cover expected enrollment increases of 250 students; state aid per student will be lower next year than this year. In addition, because in Montgomery the state does not adequately support public education, and there are very few ratables, 86 percent of our school budget comes from local property taxes. Therefore, school budget increases translate directly into property tax increases.
   Montgomery’s per-pupil education costs continue to be substantially lower than neighboring districts and the state average, reflecting years of fiscal responsibility. The current budget proposal reflects nearly $700,000 in cuts; there are no easy places left to cut the budget without reducing the quality of education in this district. Overall inflation exceeded 4 percent this year, teacher salaries increased by nearly 5 percent, and health care costs increased 7 percent. Nevertheless, we maintained the costs of our current programs at an increase of less than 5 percent.
   Montgomery’s budget process this year has been open and collaborative. We conducted a public forum on February 21, at which we presented our ideas to balance the budget (both cuts and revenue enhancements) and asked the community for both their reactions and their new ideas. Information about the budget proposals has also been available on the district’s website. At another public meeting on March 8, we presented a revised set of proposals that took into account earlier public responses.
   As a result of the input we received, we revised the fee proposal to the current $100 per household. We believe that this proposal balances concerns we heard about decreased participation in extracurricular activities and financial hardship on families with our desire not to cut back on extracurricular activities. This fee proposal also responds to senior citizens’ concerns over continued increases in property taxes. Focusing this modest fee on families with older students allows us to continue to fund the more diverse set of educational and extracurricular opportunities available in middle and high school.
   We recognize the value of extracurricular activities to a quality educational experience. We do not consider these to be "expendable frills," but our budget position is difficult. The state-imposed cap below inflation coupled with anemic state funding and increased contractual obligations makes it imperative that we find responsible solutions that maintain educational quality. We would prefer that the Governor and Legislature support public education in New Jersey. Absent that leadership, we have proposed a creative, responsible, and fair approach to funding quality education in Montgomery.
Montgomery Board of Education:
R. David Pettit
Charlie Jacey, Jr.
Andrea Bradley
Mark Conforti
Wei-ching Lin
Reginald Luke
Arun Rimal
Christine Ross
Saul Rubinstein
Clymer supporters thank school board
To the editor:
I was one of the many staff, citizens, and students who addressed the Montgomery Township Board of Education on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 in support of granting tenure to Mr. Chip Clymer, an assistant principal at MHS. I am pleased that the Superintendent, Dr. Samuel Stewart and the Board of Education responded positively to the public and saw fit to tenure Mr. Clymer.
   I give the members of the Board of Education credit for listening with an open mind during the public forum and creating an environment in which the community was welcome to address the Board. I especially commend the Board President, Mr. David Pettit, for acknowledging the large contingent of high school students present that evening and treating them as politely and attentively as he did the other members of the community.
   It was clear that the Board’s willingness to listen encouraged spontaneous participation on the part of many students. This situation provided an opportunity for students to learn how to present differing opinions, how to stand up for what they believe in and how to be effective within the confines of institutional proceedings. These are useful skills to acquire and hone as a young adult.
   I commend the Board of Education for reversing its decision and addressing the seniors of MHS in person to share that news. While it may not be standard procedure in the tenure process, it was an opportunity to further model appropriate adult behavior: own up to one’s mistakes and take the necessary steps to set things right.
   The Board of Education showed that it is responsive to the community in its handling of this matter. I commend them for their action in this situation and for their commitment to the citizens of Montgomery in general.
   While I may not always agree with the Board’s opinions on specific items, I believe that they have our community’s best interests at heart as they juggle complex and expensive issues that do not have clear cut solutions. I support them as they attempt to solve problems that are out of their control, while providing for the academic needs of the community. They demonstrated flexibility, courtesy, commitment, and responsibility to the public in this case and I expect they will do the same with all decisions they face as a Board.
Lynn Watson
West Street
NPDC solution: Move the students
To the editor:
Isn’t it amazing how complicated and expensive a solution to a problem becomes the more you over-think it? Montgomery Township and its citizens are in the throes of another, often times, very contentious drama. The issue currently at hand is the cleanup and demolition of the targeted buildings at the site around the Village Elementary School.
   The problem that seems to have everyone stumped is what to do with our third and fourth graders while the remediation work is being done. The parents, for obvious reasons, would rather their children not be there while asbestos and God knows whatever else lies dormant in the ground, is removed. The township has come to terms with the company doing the clean-up to do the work around the school calendar.
   All the while countless town meetings have taken place or are on the docket, so that we can all go and talk and "take offense" some more. All the while, little is getting done as far as nailing down a plan that will make financial, as well as, just common sense.
   A friend of mine asked me what I thought of it all and my first thought was: Well, we have four other schools in the district. Why are they looking so hard for solutions when the only solution is pretty obvious. The third and fourth graders and their teachers need to be moved to the two middle schools and to Orchard Hill Elementary School!
   It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a consultant’s fee to realize that this is the one and only solution that in one fell swoop benefits all the parties involved, at a minimal cost to the ever anxious taxpayers of Montgomery Township.
   Although it’ll seem a little "cozy" at the Middle Schools and at Orchard Hill, the children and their teachers will be safe (that doesn’t offend anyone does it?), the company contracted to do the clean-up at the NPDC site can get in there and get it done as quickly as possible, without regard to following the school calendar constraints ( and I’m sure that cost was built into their bid) and finally the township’s liability exposure lessens dramatically, because twenty years from now when we start realizing the real health risks that our kids and teachers were needlessly exposed to start to surface ( remember how the government said the World Trade Center sites were "safe") because we didn’t move them.
   Whatever else might be getting tossed into the air this summer at the NPDC site, caution shouldn’t be one of them. Stop over-thinking this, stop the endless consultants, stop the political posturing and the drama. Implement the plan that a great majority of the people in this the town already know makes absolute sense. Get it done.
Maria Larkin
Bolton Circle
"Historic" process is "un-American"
To the editor:
A very small group of our neighbors seeks to designate the western section of Princeton as an historic district. We oppose this designation.
   Consider the following:
   1. Who empowered these people? Our fellow citizens of Princeton may be interested to know that the overwhelming majority of our neighbors who reside in the proposed historic district oppose it. The boundaries of the proposed district have changed several times without notification to or input from those affected. Who decides what the boundaries are and on what basis? Why do the boundaries keep changing?
   2. What are they attempting to protect us from? The proposed historic district is already subject to stringent zoning and building regulations. These regulations have served the neighborhood well without the proposed additional layer of government. In fact, recent renovations underway at two Tudors at the 206 end of Library Place can only be described as beautiful. The Grover Cleveland House on Hodge Road was meticulously renovated and restored without being designated as historic.
   3. What is the process? Homeowners have recently been told that they will not have an opportunity to vote on this issue. It is not up to the homeowners! Additionally, no standards have been established or communicated. Specifically, what regulations will be imposed on this proposed district? What dates are in place for formal discussions? What is the number of meetings planned? How much advance notice is required? What is the method of notification? Is there a timeline in place?
   4. Who will bear the burden and expenses of this new designation? Clearly, there are costs associated with establishing and maintaining this proposed district. Who will bear the burden of these expenses? Are the expenses expected to be added to the ever-increasing tax burden on its citizens? This is particularly troubling when the overwhelming majority of the residents oppose this designation.
   We respectfully request that the small number of neighbors who are in favor of this designation take a step back and consider the views of those that live next door to you on the right and next door to you on the left and across the street from you and behind you. It is unfair of those who are in favor of this designation to advocate what they believe is in everyone’s "best interest." People who are paying mortgages and some of the highest property taxes in the nation should maintain the right to make decisions about their own property. The fact that homeowners have no right to vote on whether their property is designated as historic is un-American.
Madeleine Porcelli
Frank Porcelli
Hodge Road
"Historic" panel explains its role
To the Editor:
As members of the Princeton Borough Historic Preservation Review Committee (HPRC), we are writing to clarify the work of our committee and the role of historic preservation in Princeton.
   The residents of Princeton are fortunate to live in an area rich in history and with buildings and neighborhoods of great architectural quality. The Borough itself is home to 7 National Historic Landmarks as well as 7 other historic properties and 4 historic districts listed on both the New Jersey and the National Registers of Historic Places. In addition, the King’s Highway Historic District runs through Princeton between Lawrenceville and Kingston. This extraordinary legacy reflects more than three centuries of our community’s growth and change. It is a legacy that continues to be enriched by current and contemporary building projects.
   The role of the HPRC is to foster the preservation of these historic sites and districts for the education, pleasure, and welfare of the people of Princeton. The makeup of the HPRC is prescribed by ordinance and includes professionals with expertise in architecture, history, planning and historic preservation. As with every Borough committee, each of us has been appointed by the elected members of Borough Council.
   We are an advisory committee and assist the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment in reviewing applications involving exterior alterations to or demolitions of properties within the Borough’s historic districts. Standards for reviews are contained in the historic preservation ordinance. Routine maintenance, repairs, repainting, landscaping and in-kind replacement of deteriorated building elements are not subject to review. HPRC reviews do include a consideration of a project’s visual compatibility with the buildings and streetscape of the local historic district, but they do not presume or require an adhesion to a particular architectural style.
   Since its formation in 1985, the HPRC has surveyed historic sites in the Borough and made recommendations on preservation issues in the master plan. It has also helped prepare nominations for listing on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places as well as Borough ordinances establishing local historic sites and districts. The process and criteria for establishing historic districts, including the setting of boundaries, are set forth by ordinance. The process may be initiated by property owners within the proposed district, as it was in the case of the founding of the Bank Street Historic District.
   It is the role of the HPRC to inform any group interested in establishing a historic district of the tasks involved in doing so. Once residents agree to proceed with an application for designation and on a map of the proposed district, a survey of the exteriors of each building in the proposed district must be completed. The HPRC reviews this document for Borough Council and the Council considers its advice when voting on the proposed district.
   The benefits of historic districts are well-documented. Studies have shown they provide safeguards against over-development and increase property values over time. In addition, properties in historic districts can qualify for certain federal tax benefits, and the proposed NJ Historic Property Reinvestment Act would provide state tax credits for their substantial rehabilitation.
   Historic preservation can even be an important tool in limiting truck traffic. A major argument made by the mayors of Princeton in their letter to the Department of Transportation seeking the removal of Routes 206 and 27 from the network for heavy trucks is that the route runs along the King’s Highway Historic District and through or by the historic properties and districts noted above. Historic preservation is not only important; it is integral to the historical identity and to the continued development, growth, and prosperity of our community.
Preservation committee:
Jeanne Perantoni (Chair)
Jane Faggen (Vice-Chair)
Nora Kerr (Vice-Chair)
Kathleen Abplanalp
James Constantine
William Howard
Cecelia Tazelaar
Kirsten Thoft,
Regan Tuder