Four candidates are competing for three spots on the Princeton Board of Education in the November 5 election. Incumbents Debbie Bronfeld and Gregory Stankiewicz will each seek a second term, while former board member Dafna Kendal and newcomer Susan Kanter hope to fill the seat being vacated by Bill Hare, who did not seek re-election.
Community News asked each candidate to write about their backgrounds, experience, and priorities for the schools.
Their answers are presented below in alphabetical order by last name.
Background & Family: My husband and I moved to Princeton in 1998, when he accepted a position at Bristol-Myers Squibb. We were living in the Boston area, where I grew up. I am 58 years old and have a sister and brother; my husband has two brothers; the six of us all attended public school K-12. My dad was a CPA and my mom a special education teacher.
I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts in accounting and an MBA from Babson College, with a concentration in operations.
I spent the first half of my career working in corporate America for different manufacturing and consumer product companies, focusing on finances and inventory management. I was an internal auditor, too, traveling all over the U.S. Since 2007 I have worked and volunteered for several non-profits, first as the founding executive director of Dress for Success Mercer County, which assists women in reentering the work force. As an analyst for Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, I managed a senior food program, weekend food program for school children, and signed families up for food stamps.
I have two sons who attended Littlebrook, John Witherspoon, and Princeton High School, class of 2015 and 2018. My sons attend Stanford and Boston University.
Community Involvement: In Boston I volunteered with Special Olympics and City Year. As a Littlebrook parent I volunteered as a room parent, in the library, supported the school garden and VP of community services. I was a founding board member of Princeton Children’s Fund, raising awareness and funds for our school children. I volunteer weekly at a mobile food pantry in Princeton serving more than 30 families and with Housing Initiatives of Princeton. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so for me getting involved is not why, but of course!
The Issues: The issues that are the greatest concern to me fall under finances, school climate, and facilities. I’m running again, not only because there is a lot of work to be done for our students, teachers, parents, and community, but because I want to be at the table making the hard decisions to ensure our students continue to receive a meaningful and unrestricted public education.
Our district needs to implement a fair and sustainable budget, versus laying teachers off, in order to balance the budget. I want to increase our reserve accounts for future uncertainties, and look for cost-sharing opportunities with the town and non-profit institutions. I want to review invoices for labor, healthcare, and school expenses to ensure your taxes are being spent appropriately.
Our school climate must continue to address health, wellness (vaping), and safety for everyone. I will push for all students to be educated in an environment that is conducive to their individual learning style, and for ALL students to have the opportunity to participate in the arts, extracurriculars, and athletics, and for general education teachers to read IEPs for students in their classes.
I will work with the administration to reduce cheating at PHS, to ensure our students are engaged and connected to their school, teachers, classes, and classmates and offer more real-life classes like financial and racial literacy, so our students have the tools needed for life after PPS. I will continue to push for parent forms to be translated to Spanish, and to ensure our minority students are in an environment where they can excel.
For facilities I will support continuous maintenance and care of our current buildings, and I will push to ensure we are optimizing our current space, so students can attend the classes they want, and teachers can teach manageable size classes. I will push to hold our contract management company completely responsible for all referendum projects, with complete budget transparency. Princeton taxpayers deserve the work and improvements of the referendum they approved, at or under budget.
I look forward to another three years on the school board; my prior board and work experiences are qualifications needed on the board. I have served on student achievement, finance, equity, and as chair of the personnel committee for two years. I served on the last negotiating team with our three unions. I’m also a member of the green team and an alternate for the facilities and finance committees.
My voting records proves I have my own opinions and ideas and that I do not always agree with the full board. Recently I voted no on the 2019-20 budget, and on several consultant fees. These expenses are not focused on our students, especially our most vulnerable students.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background: I grew up going to public school in Roslyn, New York, graduating from Roslyn High School in 1981. I subsequently graduated from Duke University in 1985 with a double major in economics and political science. I worked for 23 years as vice president of operations for a large multi-national wholesale firm in New York City where I was responsible for budgeting, growth projections, and personnel for a $250 million division.
My husband and I moved to Princeton more than 20 years ago so that he would be close to work and I could have an “easy” commute to NYC. We chose the town of Princeton to raise our children because the school system resembled the ones that my husband (a Philadelphia native) and I attended — public schools that valued community, diversity and academic achievement. Twelve years ago I retired and have, since then, been fully devoted to supporting and improving the Princeton Public Schools through volunteer work.
Family: My husband, Larry Kanter, is an anesthesiologist working at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center. We moved to Princeton in 1996 and our three children attended Johnson Park Elementary School, John Witherspoon Middle School, and Princeton High School, graduating in 2014, 2016, and 2019, respectively. My youngest daughter currently is a freshman at the University of Chicago, my son is a senior at Washington University at St. Louis, and my oldest daughter is a research assistant in Boston.
Community Involvement: For the past 15 years as a parent and active volunteer, I have worked to support and improve the Princeton Public Schools. I spent five years as PHS PTO co-president, five years as JW PTO treasurer, and five years on PTO Council (PTOC). These roles allowed me to highlight and give a voice to issues at PHS, while staying current on issues at the elementary schools and JW.
In the last few years I have co-led the PHS PTO to support initiatives to enhance our community. These included the Homecoming football game under the lights; the creation of an initiative to provide a welcoming environment for new families; a student-led sustainability initiative to end the use of disposable plastic water bottles at PHS; Special Education PTO programs that educate our community as a whole; and programs that give voice to the issues of income disparity and race.
My work in the PTOs allowed me to learn about and be involved in many critical aspects of our school community. Through these experiences I have found that the most impactful solutions are achieved when both community and stakeholder input are solicited and carefully considered. For example, as a parent representative on the PHS Bell Committee — which changed the start time and schedule at PHS to promote student wellness — I observed the impact of creative, thoughtful change that was well researched, student focused, and collaborative.
Currently, I serve as treasurer for both the 101: Fund (2015-present) and Princeton Children’s Fund (2019) — two organizations that help to provide vital financial support and mentorship to families living in financial insecurity in our community.
I have also served as VP of education at The Jewish Center of Princeton for three years (2012-15) — a volunteer position where I was responsible for supervising nursery school and religious school directors. Despite the challenges of managing a shrinking budget, I developed positive relationships with the directors, helped support the implementation of innovative new programs that supported our goal of providing Jewish education that met the varied interests and needs of our students and their families.
The Issues: I have extensive experience collaborating with families, teachers, staff, community members, and administrators on urgent issues facing our district. I have decided to deepen my involvement by running for a seat on the Board of Education to help ensure that every child can achieve their full potential in a manner that is healthy and joyful. As a BOE member I would focus on the issues I have focused on in my volunteer work — equity for all students, wellness, and achievement of all our students. Decisions affecting our operational budget and facility planning must be made in a way that supports these values while being responsible to the Princeton taxpayer.
Last year’s referendum rollout demonstrated the need for more communication, community partnership, research, and planning prior to making decisions with substantial impact on Princeton taxpayers. I led more than a dozen tours of PHS bringing more than 500 members of our community through the high school as the BOE coalesced around a scaled-back referendum that addressed some of the facilities’ most urgent needs. From that experience, I came to understand even more fully how important listening, outreach, transparency, and communication are for the community to have confidence in the BOE’s recommendations and decisions.
My goal is for each student to find joy, achievement, and connection in our schools. I intend to do the hard, detailed work to arrive at solutions that satisfy the needs of our students while being accountable to the Princeton taxpayer.
Background: I was born and raised in New Jersey. I’m 47 years old, have a B.A. from Lehigh University and a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law. I have been working as a lawyer for the past 20 years. We moved to Princeton in 2011 so that our children could attend Princeton Public Schools.
Family: My husband, Frank Godfrey, works in the insurance industry. Our children are 15 and 12. They both attended Littlebrook Elementary School and are now at Princeton High School and John Witherspoon Middle School.
Community Involvement: I have been very involved in the Princeton community, mainly in supporting programs that benefit children. I served as treasurer on the executive board of the Littlebrook Elementary PTO, I was a founding trustee of the Princeton Children’s Fund, and I served as a mentor to a first-generation Princeton High School student for three years through the Give Back Foundation. I also coached a Princeton Little League Softball team for several years.
The Issues: I am running for school board to maintain Princeton’s standard of academic excellence, to advocate for fiscal responsibility, and to find solutions to address rising enrollment and capacity needs.
Academic Excellence: I want to ensure that students from all backgrounds and abilities receive an excellent education. I support maintaining class sizes that are optimal for learning, hiring and retaining outstanding teachers and staff, and improving student health and wellness.
Fiscal Responsibility: In order to ensure that our community remains affordable, I support using taxpayer dollars more efficiently, eliminating wasteful spending, working within budgetary constraints, and negotiating voluntary payments from non-public institutions that send students to our district.
This year the school board cut three percent of staff to balance the budget, despite rising enrollment. This has resulted in increased class sizes and reduced essential classes for students. I agree that cuts had to be made, but I would have achieved them without impacting instruction or eliminating teaching positions. The budget shortfall could have been closed by reducing supervisory positions, deferring technology purchases, and collecting money owed to the district by the Cranbury Board of Education.
Rising Enrollment and Capacity: Student enrollment and capacity have been pressing issues for the school district for the past few years. The $27 million referendum passed last year was planned to address critical issues such as HVAC, security, and capacity. Four additional classrooms are planned at Princeton High School and three at John Witherspoon Middle School. These new classrooms will add capacity for 175 students, easing some of the overcrowding at the middle and high schools. The improvements will give the board and our community time to decide how to continue to address the rising enrollment in a transparent and open way. Additionally, existing facilities should be analyzed to maximize usage and free up space for learning.
My prior experience as a highly effective PPS board member (2016-18) will allow me to get to work right away. Some of my accomplishments during my prior board term include negotiating $800,000 in voluntary payments from non-profits in Princeton, determining that Cranbury wasn’t fully compensating our district for services provided (Cranbury underpaid PPS by approximately $150,000 for the 2018-19 school year), and leading the discussions with the teachers’ union to clear the way for the start time at PHS to be moved to 8:20 a.m.
Given my prior experience, I already know how the system works and how to get things done. As an independent thinker with established relationships throughout Princeton, I value different viewpoints, create solutions, and build consensus. Many parents, teachers, and members of the community know that I am responsive, that they can bring their concerns to me, and that I will act, if necessary.
Background: My family moved to Princeton in 2004, drawn to an engaged community with a tradition of strong public schools. I have 30 years of policy experience, with a master’s and doctorate in public policy from Princeton University. I worked at the NYC Board of Education; NJ’s Office of Management and Budget; and as chief operating officer of New Jersey Community Capital, a nonprofit community finance institution. I currently serve as statewide coordinator of the NJ Community Schools Coalition and as a lecturer at Rutgers.
Family: My wife, Julia Sass Rubin, is a professor at Rutgers. We feel privileged that our daughter, now a senior at Princeton High School, has had the opportunity to grow up in this community and attend our public schools.
Community Involvement: I am completing my first term on the Board. I became vice president and facilities committee chair in January. I co-chair the policy committee; serve on the finance committee; and am the board’s representative to the Princeton Planning Board.
I have focused on strengthening our collaboration with the local community and statewide partners. In that spirit, I serve as the Mercer County representative to the New Jersey School Boards Association and helped our district rejoin the Garden State Coalition of Schools.
The Issues: My priorities are to:
Increase Equity and Inclusion: The district won a state grant this fall that allows us to immediately expand our pre-kindergarten services; is undertaking an outside evaluation of our Special Education services and programs; and is instituting restorative practices this year to move away from punitive discipline and focus instead on strengthening schools as communities. Going forward, I would like us to adopt a community school framework, working in partnership with nonprofits to provide expanded learning opportunities and support services to ensure that all our students thrive.
Reduce Student Stress: Our students face levels of stress far higher than in the past. Princeton Public Schools surveyed our high school students to understand how their stress levels compared to schools nationwide. In response, we instituted a later school start time; implemented a modified-block schedule at Princeton High School to better engage our students; encouraged teachers to reduce homework levels; and made changes at John Witherspoon Middle School to provide our students with more connections to caring adults. Going forward, we need to work closely with students as we craft a new, State-mandated mental health component to our K-12 health curriculum.
Strengthening District Finances: Princeton Public Schools faces an ongoing funding shortfall brought on by the state’s multi-year failure to fulfill its funding obligations; rapidly rising student enrollments; and a strict State-mandated 2 percent cap on the growth of our property tax levy. Over the past three years, this combination of factors has depleted the district’s reserves to such an extent that the board found it necessary to cut staff by 3 percent in the current year’s budget — a terrible outcome we must prevent from reoccurring.
The board has worked with the superintendent and his team to identify new revenue opportunities and implement multiple years of cost saving measures. We have begun a shared services study with the municipality, and we are asking the public to submit cost-savings ideas. However, these measures alone will not address the magnitude of the shortfall, which equaled $2 million last spring.
We must work with our partners to spearhead change at the state level. Over the summer we joined a coalition that successfully convinced the legislature to provide a one-year increase in the state’s reimbursement for past extraordinary special education costs. The infusion of an additional $1.7 million in aid came after the deadline for the district to submit its 2019-20 budget but will be critical in helping replenish some of our depleted reserves. Similarly, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker has proposed legislation to have the state fund charter schools directly, rather than through school district budgets. Such an outcome would be beneficial to both charter schools and districts, saving Princeton approximately $6.5 million a year; keeping the Charter School fiscally whole; and ending the competition for resources that in the past has led to tensions in our community.
Planning on Meeting the Needs of Our Growing Community: We are implementing the $26.9 million 2018 referendum to improve security and wellness in each of our schools and are providing regular public updates.
Nevertheless, our student population continues to grow, increasing more than 10 percent over the last six years. Now is the ideal time to engage the community in planning for how to address growth and other critical decisions that will shape the future of Princeton Public Schools. Comprehensive planning is critical in avoiding unnecessary costs brought on by waiting too long to act. Done in conjunction with the community, it presents an opportunity for us to jointly identify cost-efficient solutions.