District looks for options to account for expected student population growth

Due to the recent construction of several apartment complexes, Princeton is predicting a large increase in the number of students currently in the district’s school system.

The potential for an influx of new students is primarily attributed to the construction of the Merwick-Stanworth complex on Witherspoon Street and the AvalonBay rental community on Bayard Lane, which totals to about 600 units of apartments and townhouses. Even without the new complexes, the number of students has been rising; there are already 131 students who are not from AvalonBay and Merwick-Stanworth newly enrolled in the district this school year. As such, the Board of Education has been discussing a number of temporary solutions to help resolve the issue.

One possibility that has since been discarded was for administrators to rent out the building on Witherspoon Street which is currently occupied by the Princeton Packet to be used as a temporary satellite office. The former Valley Road school, which currently houses the central administration, would then be able to be used for new students. However, the district would also have to repurpose a new part of the Valley Road building for education space prior to moving administration to the Witherspoon Street building.

 

graphic by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Laura/" title="View all of this person's work">"Laura</a></span>

graphic by Laura Bussemaker

Andrea Spalla, president of the BOE, said, “Since the repurposing of [the Valley Road administration building] would be cost-prohibitive, the plan is off the table.”

Another more long-term possibility includes a bond referendum sometime around 2018, which would allow Princeton residents to vote on whether municipalities can fund capital improvement projects through the sale of bonds. These projects would include, for instance, the building of mobile schools. The district would attempt to time the referendum such that it would take place when the old debt is starting to be retired to avoid a large increase in property taxes.

Spalla is unsure whether or not the referendum will pass among voters.

“I certainly hope so… [but it is] still in the very early stages of planning.” Spalla wrote in an email. “It’s way too soon to say, or even predict, what facilities expansions it will involve.”

If there is an extensive influx of new students from the AvalonBay and Merwick-Stanworth developments, the district cannot simply split the new students among classes, as district policy dictates that there can be no more than 25 students in elementary school classes and no more than 30 in older grades.

“I think that in regards to [current] classroom size, we’re spaced out quite nicely,” said

Emily Wang ’19. “I don’t have a specific class where there are too many students or where we are extremely cramped, but I do see an issue arising if too many students flood in at once. [If that happened] I would have more people to consult about study subjects and other things, but on the detrimental side, the teacher [would] have to give his or her attention to more people.”

However, as the district is already nearly full, there is some concern about overcrowding and space with the addition of more students in sought-after classes.
“In popular electives like Python or [Studio] Art … there aren’t always enough supplies and room for everyone,” said Alison Lu ’20.

Either way, new options concerning the management of space and facilities will need to be considered in the face of an already rising student population in the Princeton district.

“The answer [to whether an expansion of facilities and teaching staff is needed] depends on the students we do receive and their ages. I think it’s safe to say that no matter what, we will need to hire more teachers and to expand our facilities. The question is where, how, and to what extent,” Spalla said.

If the referendum passes, accommodating a larger number of students into the district will be easier; however, that possibility depends on how much change voters are willing to see.

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