Are Princeton’s Schools ‘Full To Bursting’? What Is To Be Done?

Princeton High School with snow and moon. (click to expand.)

Princeton High School with snow and moon. (click to expand.)

Are Princeton’s schools too crowded? Some local residents are complaining that classrooms are too full, and that Princeton therefore cannot accommodate any more families with kids. Further expansion in the school system is also argued to be unaffordable because of the expense. Is there any truth to these claims?

We dug into the School Board’s 2013 financial statements to see if we could find any evidence for a big increase in attendances at our locals schools. We found the following figures for students at our six local public schools:

  • 2009 – 3,372 students
  • 2010 – 3,340 students
  • 2011 – 3,381 students
  • 2012 – 3,378 students
  • 2013 – 3,415 students (1.3% higher than in 2009)

The number of students dropped by 32 between 2009 and 2010, but we currently have 41 extra students compared to 2009. These numbers could represent natural year-to-year variation and there is certainly no evidence of a dramatic expansion. If schools are at capacity, they have been at capacity for at least the last 5 years. This year, the School Board are conducting a demographic survey, to try to predict how many students will attend in coming years, based on population trends. This seems like a good idea. Experts predict that school attendances nationwide are set to rise. Even in Princeton, where the population is static, more students can be expected because of a demographic bulge. Kids entering kindergarten now are part of the second generational wave from the big splash that was the post-WW2 ‘Baby Boom’.

Even without development of new homes in Princeton, our School Board is probably going to have to make contingencies for expansion. That is going to cost money, but Princeton’s homeowners are already feeling pretty tapped out by recurrent property tax increases. Last year’s savings from municipal consolidation were outweighed by demands for more money from the School Board and Mercer County. Look at how inflation-adjusted spending per student has risen in Princeton through the years:

Princeton School Board's spending per student keeps going up. (click to expand.)

Princeton School Board’s spending per student keeps going up. Based on School Board statistics (click to expand.)

Spending per student has increased by about $1,000 per year over the course of just five years. (And that is after adjusting for inflation.) Spending in 2013 was a new record. Compare spending in Princeton to neighboring municipalities, where the schools are also rated ‘excellent’:

Princeton spending per student compared to neighboring municipalities.

Princeton spending per student compared to neighboring municipalities. Data from Common Sense Institute of New Jersey. (Click to expand)

Princeton spends 50% more than Montgomery  Township per student per year. If we could match the efficiency of the Montgomery School Board, we could educate over 1,500 extra students per year without spending an extra cent of money from hard-strapped taxpayers. The problem with Princeton’s schools is not a lack of resources, but a lack of efficiency. Even if our School Board could be as efficient as it was in 2009, we could educate over 400 extra students for the same budget as we are currently spending. Of course, more students would also require more classrooms, but it looks like we’re going to need those anyway, and more families would help share the cost of needed capital spending.

  • Interested in the full data? Click here to download and get in touch if you want a full explanation of the statistics. Spot any errors? Let us know and we’ll be happy to correct.

Why do you think Princeton’s School Board has such a high budget compared to other local public schools? Are Princeton residents happy to invest much more in education than other local Jerseyans? And if so, why do people complain so much about high property taxes? Have your say using the comments form below!

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