Princeton Regional School Board 2000



Vote Tuesday, April 18, 2000


Polls are open in Princeton from 4 PM to 9 PM

The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area is a nonpartisan, non-profit volunteer organization which works to promote active, informed participation of all citizens in their government. The League provide nonpartisan information on public issues, and takes action on issues after member study and consensus. In publishing this material, the League neither endorses nor rejects the views of any candidate quoted.

All candidate information in this guide was compiled from candidates' responses to questionnaires. Replies are printed in the candidates' own words, without editing or verification. Due to space limitation, the candidates were given a word limit for replies. Incumbents are indicated by an asterisk (*).

Reprinting of this guide in part or in whole is not permissible without written permission of the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area.

Copyright 2000 by the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area

The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area submitted the following six questions to all candidates for Princeton Regional School Board:

1. What role, if any, should PRS have in providing or supporting a Pre-K program?

2. The proposed school budget is $40.6 million with a ballot question seeking an additional $4.96 million. How important a part of the School BoardÕs job is keeping costs and taxes down?

3. The Long-Range Planning Committee produced a comprehensive report in 1999. Several plans were proposed for expanding and/or building new facilities to deal with overcrowding and increasing enrollments. Which plan, if any, do you favor and why?

4. Which aspects of our school district do you view as most successful? Which do you feel are most in need of change?

5. With the new superintendent, Dr. Claire Scheff Kohn, about to come into the district, what would you define as the top priority for her to address?



Vote for Two; Term: 3 years

Joshua Leinsdorf

Age: 54

Address: 35 Forester Drive, Princeton

Years in School District: 2

Occupation: Psephologist

Education: B.A.

Children: 1 in second grade

Significant Community Activities: Library volunteer

1. I favor establishing a pre-K program in all elementary schools.

2. Last year, Princeton High School had the highest Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of any public high school in New Jersey. Newsweek magazine recently listed Princeton High School as the 26th best in the United States. Yet, Princeton Borough and Princeton Township pay the lowest school taxes of any municipality in Mercer County. If the second question had passed last year, Princeton's taxes would still have been the lowest except for Trenton. Trenton is an Abbott District which receives most of its money from the state. The $4.96 million in the second question is badly needed: to restore education programs which were cut last year; to expand the world language program so students can speak a foreign language in the global economy; to meet state mandates in music, art and drama; to have full-time librarians in the elementary schools; to replace the obsolete 386 and 486 computers which do not run the new software; to update the high school science laboratories which are decades out of date; and to repair the schools which have been neglected. Some classrooms do not even have enough seats for all the students.

The Board's job is to ensure that every dollar is needed and well spent. Now that New Jersey has a Real Estate Tax Reimbursement Program for people over 65, money can be spent on the schools without high taxes forcing older people out of their homes. Older people on small fixed incomes need never again pay a real estate tax increase. The deadline for applying for this reimbursement program is May 1st. Call 1 (800) 882-6597 for more information. Passage of the second question will cost Princeton taxpayers $150 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation. That comes to $12.50 per month, which is tax deductible. A more typical house assessed at $300,000 will pay about $30 a month, after taxes. This is about the cost of a basic cable television subscription or a dinner in a restaurant. Princeton's prosperity is based on its fine schools. That is the reason people pay a premium to live in Princeton. Princeton currently pays 1/3 less school taxes than the average of the rest of Mercer County. One way or another, Princeton will get to the average. Either school spending will rise, the schools will remain among the best in the nation, and real estate values will continue to soar. Or school spending will not keep pace with the need, budgets will be tight, the education program will suffer, Princeton will no longer be such a desirable place to raise children, and real estate values will fall, correspondingly.

Trenton, Ewing and Hamilton have seen property values decline by as much as 6% in the past 6 years. It can happen in Princeton, too, like it did in many places in the late '80's, when sellers had to pay large sums at the closing when their houses were sold. So, the choice is between spending a little extra money to maintain the fine public schools, and saving a few dollars and risking tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of equity in our houses, our biggest asset. The choice is yours.

3. I favor adding on to the elementary schools to keep the fifth grades where they are, accommodate the pre-K classes, and improve the facilities. Princeton needs a new high school, the Junior High should go into the refurbished High School, and the District offices in Valley Road should be moved into John Witherspoon, which should become a specialized facility with as many of the special education students as possible being brought back into the district. That would leave the Valley Road site free for the new library and arts council, and their valuable downtown properties could be sold and returned to the tax rolls. This would lower Borough taxes.

4. Parental involvement, autonomous principals, dedicated staff and a rigorous academic program are the district's strengths. The Board's communication with the public is its greatest weakness. I favor putting a webcam in the superintendents office.

5. The top priorities are moving ahead on the badly needed new facilities and better public information.

Myra Nicol Williams

Age: 58

Address: 101 Broadmead, Princeton

Years in School District: 20

Occupation: Consultant

Education: B.S. in Math and Physics, 1964, Southern Methodist University; PhD. In Molecular Biophysics, 1968, Yale University

Children: Christine Williams Fitzgibbons - age 30, Robyn Nicol Williams - age 24

Significant Community Activities: Volunteer in the Springboard Program

1. A creative Pre-K program could have a significant impact on improving the long-term academic success of students. The program needs to be one that gets the children excited about learning and stimulates their interest in the world around them. It has to be far more than day care. PRS should support the creation of such a program and work to leverage existing programs to accelerate progress in this area. Although such a program has not yet been mandated, there is growing interest in this area. PRS has authorized the exploration of collaborations with several existing groups in this area. This level of involvement appears to be appropriate at this time.

2. The role of the School Board should be to assure that appropriate resources (human, financial, and facilities) are available for the education of our children. At the same time, the Board should provide a framework that assures the public that the budgets are extremely tight, that appropriate priorities have been established, and that the balance between costs and returns is equitable. Although the tax implications should always be considered, the achievement of educational goals may at times require tax increases. The most important role of the School Board is to achieve the appropriate balance between cost and effectiveness.

3. I have reviewed the facilities plan but have insufficient information to support one specific plan. I would need to see a more complete analysis of costs and impact on the educational program. My initial bias is to maximize the use of the Middle School and the High School by expanding those rather than making additions to multiple schools. These two schools could then share the use of some very expensive facilities while also removing some space pressure from the elementary schools. However, all of the schools will need substantial renovation. In addition, construction will be very disruptive and attention will need to be given to options for swing space.

4. Our district is known for academic excellence and for its arts and music programs. These have been highly successful; yet they are less inclusive in terms of minority representation than one would expect. Thus, the success and the failure -- we have outstanding faculty and outstanding programs; unfortunately, many of the students do not benefit from these. One of my goals is to provide extra training in these areas to students at an early age so a greater diversity of students will be prepared to benefit from such programs in the future.

5. The Princeton Regional Schools have lacked top leadership for a number of years. Many people worked extremely hard to fill the vacuum; however, only time-critical issues were addressed. Longer-term strategic issues were frequently postponed. We need for Dr. Kohn to bring her vision and leadership to reinvigorate this school system. We need for her to focus on teamwork with her administrative staff, the teachers, the Board of Education, the parents, and concerned citizens. We need to work together to build a shared vision for the future.



Vote for One; Term: 3 years

Merrill Price Biancosino

This candidate has withdrawn from active campaigning.

Anne B. Burns

Age: 46

Address: 73 Baldwin Lane, Princeton Township

Years in School District: 10

Occupation: Assistant Press Secretary and Speechwriter for Governor Brendan Byrne 1976-78; Press Secretary to NJ Commissioner of Human Services, Ann Klein 1978-80; 1980-present, Full-time mother and part- time volunteer.

Education: B.A. in Journalism, Penn State University, 1974.

Children: Sarah, 17; Emily, 15; Jeffrey, 7; Matthew, 5, and Meghan (1980- 92)

Significant Community Activities: 1999-2000 Co Chair of The June Fete, an Auxiliary Benefit for the Medical Center at Princeton; 1999-2000 Vice President of the Princeton Regional Schools PTO Council; 1999-2000 Vice President of fundraising, Community Park School; 1999-2000 School Board representative for the PHS PTO; 1999-2000 Parent representative for the second superintendent search and final superintendent interview; 1998-99 - Co president of the John Witherspoon PTO; 1998-99 Member, Ad Hoc Committee on Long Range Planning for PRS; 1998-99 Member, Survey Committee, Facilities Long Range Planning Committee

1. Research has shown that high-quality preschool education has a positive lifelong impact on all children. There is reason to believe that better early education will help address the over representation of minority students in special education programs, and will lead to greater success by students. Last year the Princeton Community Foundation in concert with representatives of the Princeton Nursery School and the YWCA, Princeton School Board PRS staff and local preschool educators spearheaded a preschool initiative to find a way to accommodate all of Princeton's low income children in local pre-schools. I support PRS's continued involvement in this initiative. State mandated preschool may be in our future. . We need to plan for this as we consider renovations and additions to our facilities.

2. It is vitally important that the School board present a budget that is fiscally prudent, and provides for a quality education for each of our children. The 3 % cap imposed on our budget by the State makes it very difficult for our district to provide for any expansion of program or to address serious deferred maintenance issues. The $4.96 million second question begins to address those issues. Our school tax rates are the lowest in Mercer County --1.04 for Princeton Township and 1.07 for Princeton Borough. Passing this budget and second question will raise the rates to 1.15 for the township and 1.16 for the borough, still keeping us among the lowest rates in the county. We must continue to be careful stewards of the public's money.

3. As a parent, I want it all. A new science building, dedicated small group instruction rooms, new athletic facilities, fine arts spaces, improved cafeterias and libraries. Everything. As a school board member, I would recognize we might not be able to have it all. Therefore, I have no favorite plan. I am not a teacher, an administrator, an architect or a planner. I would rely upon these experts to direct the board and recommend to us the plan they believe would best address the needs of the school community and the community at large.

4. Our elementary schools are our "jewels in our crown." We have four very successful schools, which do a good job of providing for the individualized needs of our children. We need to pay more attention to delivery of curriculum across the district. I believe the addition of designated curriculum specialists at each of the elementary schools, as provided for in the budget, will help accomplish this goal. The middle school has a particularly difficult job. Adolescence is not a pretty age. Here's where we see students begin to become disaffected. Smaller class size, time for teacher collaboration and planning, and in-service programs to provide teachers with strategies for teaching to different learning styles are needed. The high school is a study in contrasts. We have students who achieve at the highest levels, students who are alienated and without direction, and students who perform well yet feel unsuccessful because expectations are so high. I believe our current administrators are committed to making the high school a place where each student can feel successful. Adding guidance counselors, hiring student oriented teachers, and developing programs that include rather than exclude are the right things to do.

5. During the past ten years our district has had two permanent superintendents and four interim superintendents. The lack of consistent leadership has hurt our district. Dr. Kohn's first priority should be to meet with our teachers, our administrators and of course our board and begin establishing a relationship of mutual respect and trust. We cannot underestimate the difficulties our teachers and administrators have experienced during the past years of turmoil. Yet in spite of these difficulties they are the ones who have held our district together. Dr. Kohn's second priority should be to address our significant facilities and deferred maintenance issues. It is clear that Princeton will need to move forward with a bond issue, which will include additions and renovations to our schools. Her leadership will be critical in developing the course we take.

Ruth H. Randall

Age: 70

Address: 52 Gulick Road, Princeton, NJ 08540

Year in School District: 44

Occupation: Retired. Previously employed as a Teacher, Curriculum Consultant, Manager, Corporate Trainer.

Education: BA with honors, Swarthmore College; Graduate work, The George Washington University; Additional courses at The College of New Jersey and Montclair State College.

Children: 3 grown children, 5 grandchildren (2 in Community Park School).

Significant Community Activities: Program Co-Chair, Princeton Regional Schools Long-Range Planning Facilities Committee; Board Chair, Princeton Pro Musica; Board Chair, Princeton History Project; Former Member, Board of Princeton Adult School.

1. PRS must support local Pre-K programs more fully, as the law itself is prodding us to do. Preparation in social skills and academic enrichment can make an enormous difference in school success, and cooperation enables staff to screen future students, providing better services when they enter our schools. If it were possible, providing our own comprehensive Pre-K classes would be wonderful -- but there's no place to put them in our already overcrowded and outmoded buildings.

2. Of course the School Board must keep costs and taxes down. I plan to scrutinize the budget extremely carefully. In recent years, however, cap restrictions have forced us to make unacceptable reductions in program and staffing. Expenses are increasing at a faster rate than the cap's 3%, and a burgeoning population will force us to find new staff members and appropriate spaces for their work. Some increase in cost and therefore taxes is inevitable.

3. As a member of the Long-Range Facilities Planning Task Force, I know that it is too soon to favor any of the four plans. For one thing, we have no dollar costs for any yet. For another, two of them would entail agreements with governmental and educational entities; we cannot count on such agreements prematurely. In general, I favor accommodating new and existing students in the least disruptive way, always remembering the need to modernize existing facilities, especially in the sciences, technology, and the arts.

4. Every survey tells us that our teaching staff is respected and admired by parents and the public. We need to build on that strength, enabling teachers and administrators to continue to improve curriculum and to personalize instruction. Easier said than done; busy teachers need time and resources to do this. On the other hand, it's obvious that our physical facilities need a great deal of improvement at every level, particularly at Princeton High School. This need even affects the ability of staff to work together in developing curriculum. In addition, building an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust among all our diverse groups, and at all levels, is an ongoing and important challenge.

5. Dr. Kohn's top priority must be teambuilding, following a clear process which is diligently followed from beginning to end. She's coming at a relatively harmonious time for Board and staff. They will be happy to follow a leader who understands the importance of involvement of community, parents, staff and students, in the appropriate places and in the appropriate ways. Then such difficult issues as expansion, modernization, special classes, and building relationships with other government agencies should fall into place.

Stephen T. Schreiber

Age: 54

Address: 51 Southern Way, Princeton

Years in School District: 19

Occupation: Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Law School Admission Council

Education: BA: College of Wooster, MA: Indiana University, Ed.D: Indiana University

Children: Two children ages 5 and 8.

Significant Community Activities: Past member of the Princeton University-NOW Nursery School board, past member of the Wesley Westminster Foundation board.

1. The question of a Pre-K program touches on every issue mentioned in the following questions and answers. There is a question of money for teachers, space, special education and that all goes back to taxes. I know that every piece of research on the subject points to the importance of the early years environment on the learning of our children. Having an uneven playing field at the earliest age just exacerbates the problems later on. There is a wide range of quality of pre-K programs now offered to parents who can afford them in our area. We should think carefully about what can be done to level the playing field. I think this question must be studied very carefully!

2. The school board is charged with providing schools and teachers for our young people. All of us would rather pay fewer taxes than more. But there are practical realities. Our community attracts people who expect our schools to be great. If we want to provide the type of environment that our community demands, we must understand that there is a cost associated with that. All of us benefit from the quality of our educational programs. The school tax base is just part of the taxes we pay. We have seen how our school tax rate is one of the lowest in this area. I believe that we should be working closely with our township leaders to all work to keep our taxes as low as possible. If we can prove to be responsible with our budgets and expenses we can still keep our taxes as low as possible while providing the environment that is necessary for our students.

3. We obviously need additional space. The question whether to build new buildings, add on, or renovate is complicated. The district has hired a consultant to study the options and we should pay careful attention to the consultants findings. We must provide first rate facilities for our students. What ever we build, must be something that we are not only proud of, but will also last for a long time. Our history of our high school shows that the space will be used forever. Building long term excellent space is more important than doing something quickly that meets an immediate need but not a long term need. Our music, art, science, and physical education programs deserve to have first class facilities, all of our students and teachers deserve and environment that allows them to excel.

4. Our district has many very successful aspects. The dedication to Special Education is a model for many districts and should continue to meet the needs of our students. We are very good at attracting and keeping dedicated teachers. Those teachers in turn have been able to educate our students very successfully as evidenced by our recent rankings in both the state and national level. It is obvious that we have been very unsuccessful in managing money. There is no excuse for deferring maintenance the way it has been done leading to the general decay of our physical plant. The managing money issue is also evident in the way we have cut back successful programs like our libraries and music. We simply must change the way we have been budgeting and managing our money.

5. Dr. Kohn's top priority is to establish her leadership role in our community. We have gone far too long without a superintendent and Dr. Kohn needs to help our teachers, students, parents and tax payers understand our roles in shaping the future of our schools. The Princeton School District has incredible human resources. The role of the superintendent (and the board) is to provide the needed atmosphere for the teachers to teach and the students to learn. Dr. Kohn was hired because of her proven abilities and she needs to now lead us and we need to work closely with her.