By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON — School Board President Mike Hawkins was aware of the concerns held by some parents, that becoming a limited “School of Choice” district would flood Trenton schools with more problems than solutions.
“People say we’ll get undesireable students,” Hawkins said. “I understand their point, but I think they’re off base. At 6 or 7 years old? They’re just looking for a playmate.”
As approved during Monday’s regular school board meeting Monday, school-of- choice enrollment for 2012-13 will be limited to a maximum of 60 students: 20 kindergarten seats, 10 in the first grade and 30 in 9th grade. Board members approved the enrollment 6-1, with Wayne Sieloff dissenting.
Other board members said they were not fully supportive, but the district’s financial struggles require that some corrective steps be taken. The district stands to gain more than $300,000 in additional revenue, which will help address an anticipated $700,000 budget deficit for the coming year.
More to the point, Hawkins said that allowing newcomers to class will help balance what has become a shrinking student population.
“We’re trying to slow a rapid decline,” Hawkins said. “We would love to have people move into the community, but we have empty houses and houses for sale. This gives us an opportunity to slow the decline of students, and bring in additional funds to keep the programs and opportunities going.”
Hawkins, by day a K-9 officer with the Trenton Police Department, said the resistance to outside students is misplaced.
“When someone comes in with school of choice, their parents are more vested in the kid’s education,” Hawkins said. Half of the new students will join the youngest grades, and school of choice policy allows the district to review two years’ worth of disciplinary reports to determine if a student is acceptable.
Enrollment at Trenton Public Schools has dropped by about 350 students in the past five years, a loss of up to $3 million annually in district funding. The district graduates approximately 80 more students each year than are welcomed to kindergarten.
The board has a June deadline to complete a balanced budget for the 2012-13 school year.