By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON — After weighing a few meetings’ worth of pros and cons, Trenton Public Schools Board of Education members narrowly decided Monday to keep Taylor Elementary School open for the coming school year.
The vote was 4-3, with President Wayne Sieloff, Vice President Marie Conflitti, Treasurer Michael Hawkins and Secretary Dennis Bearden in favor and Trustees Carol Oakley, Cristine Howe and Bruce Wyke opposed.
Monday’s vote was preceded by a series of deliberations on several possible cost-cutting moves led by Supt. John Savel, including a lengthy session last week featuring a computerized presentation and discussion from parents. The moves are being considered to offset a budget deficit of up to $1.1 million in 2009-10.
Officials and board members previously had discussed closing Taylor at the end of the current school year if downward enrollment numbers continued. And though that’s happened, Sieloff said an anticipated requirement from the state to offer full-day kindergarten puts things in a different light, because it would require the district to add more classroom space.
That would complicate further the move of Taylor students to Anderson and Hedke elementary schools, which some parents have said by itself would make the remaining schools too crowded. Officials also may have to consider whether any additional state aid resulting from offering full-day kindergarten will necessitate making space in all three buildings.
“One of the factors we considered was, where do we have enough space to accommodate the children?” Sieloff said, adding that closing Taylor could have required reworking class space for special subjects or media centers to fit everyone into Anderson and Hedke.
Another was that closing Taylor temporarily and reopening it to help accommodate full-day kindergarten would require the district to bring the building, which was built in the 1970s, up to current codes. Some board members, parents and officials viewed that as an expense that could and should be avoided in current uncertain financial times.
And what he called a possible silver lining of these times caused another concern for Sieloff. Because house prices are going down, he believes the attendant drop in tax rates could attract new students to Trenton schools whose parents wouldn’t have considered the move in the past.
“It’s now more affordable to move here,” he said, “ and though no one can be sure, I hope that will happen. But what happens in the future if growth or improvements would be imperiled too much by closing the school at this time?”
Oakley said she didn’t necessarily disagree with the reasoning of members who voted to keep Taylor open.
“It was a tough decision,” she said. “But I had some concerns and felt we had some further issues that we needed to study.
“I had asked for additional facts and figures, and I just didn’t feel that I had all the information I needed to be able to vote (to keep Taylor open).”
She said she’s ready to turn her attention toward other cost cuts and revenue-producing considerations that still loom, including possibly closing the swimming pool at Arthurs Middle School to save $100,000 and becoming a school-of-choice district.
“It was a decision that needed to be made,” she said of Monday’s vote, “and I’m glad it’s been made and we can move forward with what needs to be done.
“We’re doing our best to meet the needs of the children in our district. This isn’t an easy time in education.”