District weighs school of choice, budget options

Sunday Times Newspapers

TRENTON — The numbers don’t lie, and declining enrollment may be at the heart of the looming budget deficit faced by Trenton Public Schools. Among other considerations for the board education is whether the time is right to become a limited school of choice, and if that window of opportunity remains a viable solution.

School board president Mike Hawkins wondered if that window of opportunity remains a viable solution.

“Is it too late to get on board,” Hawkins said. “A lot of schools have been doing it for years.”

Last week the board entertained a variety of proposals to address an anticipated deficit of $720,000 when they tackle the budget during an April 16 study session in advance of a June deadline to complete a final, balanced spreadsheet for the 2012-13 school year.

During the past five years, Trenton Public Schools’ enrollment has dropped by about 350 students, representing nearly $3 million annually in district funding. The declining population and building closures streamlined some costs, but leave fewer options when cuts need to be made. Board members were presented various reductions to consider, including three teacher position eliminations, transportation cuts, and reductions in athletic and custodial budgets.

Hawkins said that balancing the budget will include a combination of various reductions, and that the school of choice option would be considered on a very limited basis.

“In no means are we trying to go school of choice to rake in money,” Hawkins said. “If it’s done properly, with a cap on students and grades, it’s not huge profit but it helps sustain what we have.”

Currently, the district graduates approximately 80 more students per year than are received as new kindergarden enrollees. Hawkins said that any school of choice focus would likely be in the earlier grades, “to at least have a steady coming in – going out ratio.”

A deadline for a balanced budget is matched with the district’s need to comply with the state’s best practice policies, which Hawkins said included making school of choice available.

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)