Budget cut meeting stirs emotions among district residents

Sunday Times Newspapers


TRENTON — After extensive discussion about numerous possible cost-cutting options, Trenton Public Schools Board of Education members took a step Monday toward the future — and more are soon to follow.
They voted to offer a section of full-day kindergarten at both Anderson and Hedke elementary schools in addition to half-day sessions at both as a move toward meeting an anticipated, eventual state requirement that all kindergarten classes be all-day.


The split was among the many possible topics and scenarios outlined in a presentation by Supt. John Savel at a special meeting in the Trenton High School media center. Members still must decide whether they want Taylor Elementary School, in the district’s southernmost section, to remain open; they will revisit the issue starting with their regular meeting tomorrow night.


Monday’s special meeting, however, was a chance for school officials to lay out ways to deal with an estimated shortfall of up to $1.3 million in the nearly $28 million budget for 2009-10. Up for consideration are the closure of Taylor and the shifting of its students to Anderson and Hedke.


Those moves would involve adding classrooms at the two remaining schools at a cost of up to $2.9 million. Keeping Taylor open would require an estimated $2.5 million in renovations. All of the figures are working numbers based on conversations with architects, Savel said, and are strictly for discussion purposes at this point.


Some of the renovation costs could be paid for through savings on projects included as part of the district’s recent bond issue, although construction of new classrooms could not, because of bond language restrictions.


The additional classroom space is needed because the district wouldn’t be able to accommodate the the expected number of students in two buildings until 2015, according to official projections.


Other topics included becoming a school-of-choice district and closing the Arthurs Middle School pool, as well items that could be eliminated, such as busing to the high school and middle school and other transportation-related expenses, driver education and middle school athletics.


Monday also was a chance for members of the community to speak out, and board members and officials sat and listened as many showed up to do just that for some three hours.


“We want to hear what people have to say and try to make the right decision based upon that,” Savel said.
None of the figures and scenarios are “black and white,” he said Monday, because they depend, among other things, on student counts that haven’t happened yet, state funding questions, U.S. Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, and actual costs of the district’s current bond-funded projects.


They also depend on whether or not revenue from school-of-choice students is included, a topic that was a sore spot for some residents who spoke at the meeting.


“I was raised in Trenton and would like to keep that tradition,” one resident said of not inviting students from outside the district.


“To call it limited schools of choice is ridiculous,” said another. “You’ll have kids this year, and more coming next year and the year after that.


“We’re paying high taxes to live here,” said another resident, who said he has a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old. “I don’t think (schools of choice) is right. Kids from Riverview, River Rouge and Ecorse will be coming here.”
Other residents said while they didn’t necessarily want to go to school-of-choice mode, they understood that given the economic realities faced by the district, it’s one of the few ways to increase revenue in an effort to maintain current academic standards.


The possible closing of Taylor was a source of concern for other residents.


“My heart is in Taylor,” said one. “It’s a great school, a very family-oriented, close school with great teachers. We need to see how much we can scrounge up to keep Taylor open.”


Apart from the action taken on the kindergarten situation, no other decisions were made Monday. The rest of the items will be on the agenda for tomorrow’s board meeting and possibly future meetings as well, Savel said.