Ample reserves and the Maurice Hawk addition are important to the continued success of the WW-P school district.
In a June 8 letter to the News, Veronica Mehno says that the WW-P School District is hording reserves. Suggesting that WW-P is hoarding capital reserve is like saying a squirrel storing nuts in a tree is hoarding nuts. Without the nuts, the squirrel will starve in winter. Without capital reserve, WW-P’s buildings will fall into disrepair.
There is no “correct” level of capital reserves. The allocation to capital reserves is determined by the board during the annual budget process. Over the last few years this level has generally been around 4 to 5 percent of the budget, between $7 million and $10 million per year.
These amounts are added to the capital reserve account. Each year the board and administration agree on the projects to build, then uses the capital reserve to pay for them, thereby drawing down the capital reserves.
The capital reserve serves as a source of funds for annual capital improvements to the districts buildings. This could amount to anywhere from a few million dollars per year to over $10 million per year. A larger capital reserve fund gives the district more flexibility in number and size of available projects.
The board has built up the capital reserve balance to over $20 million over the last few years. This buildup will help to fund large capital projects. Some of the pending projects include replacing the HVAC controls and components at High School North for over $5 million, new field turf at High School South and High School North for $1.5 million, and a new roof at High School North for $2.4 million.
Ms. Mehno’s comparison of WW-P’s reserves to surrounding districts was troubling. WW-P has over 9,500 students, a $170-plus million annual budget and $259 million in facilities.
Cranbury has fewer than 500 students, an $18 million annual budget and $10 million in facilities. Princeton has 4,000 students, a $95 million budget and $88 million in facilities. Robbinsville has 3,100 students, a $47 million budget and $69 million in facilities. We have several times the students of these districts. One would expect us to have several times their capital reserves.
Next, Ms. Mehno challenges the wisdom of building an addition to Maurice Hawk. She asks for a demographic study, as though this will magically reveal the exact number of students (and their grade levels) that the coming residential buildings will produce. She specifically refers to the uncertainty surrounding the Howard Hughes property.
We may not know the exact date of completion or demographics, but the development of Howard Hughes is coming. Meanwhile, the Toll Brothers project on Bear Brook Road could add about 50 students to the district as soon as fall 2018.
The Princeton Theological Seminary project is expected to add over 300 students in the fall of 2019. Without adding classroom space, we would need to have higher student to teacher ratios. Imagine teachers instructing students in the corridors of our schools. This could happen if we don’t expand the capacity of our schools to meet the coming residential development.
I don’t always agree with the board or administration of the West Windsor–Plainsboro Regional School District. However, the district has been disciplined and prudent in its financial management. Adding classrooms is the correct decision for the long-term competitiveness of the district.
— Scott Powell
Powell is a former West Windsor member of the board of education.