Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson issued a statement to the press this week expressing his opposition to mass layoffs and the privatization of jobs in the Trenton Public Schools.
The school district faces a $19 million short fall this year and could lay off between 250 to 350 employees and close the Monument Elementary School.
The state Department of Education has proposed that the district privatize various positions such as secretaries and custodians. The Trenton Board of Education tabled a measure to privatize custodians on Monday as a packed room of teachers protested the proposal and the layoffs.
Jackson held a press conference on Wednesday and issued a press release about the school district budget shortfall. He expressed anger about the budget shortfall, and said privatization and massive layoffs can’t be the solution. He also said he is in discussions with county and state officials to find a solution.
“I wanted to ensure that all parties knew that I do not support efforts to privatize any components of our educational system,” Jackson said. “There are so many people that contribute to a successful learning environment: those who teach, those who keep our kids safe, and those who maintain our school buildings. None can be discarded under the guise of privatization.”
Jackson said the school district administration had not provided detailed budget information to the union leadership, and the perceived lack of transparency had frustrated ongoing discussions, making it difficult for union leadership to respond with informed recommendations.
“In order to have `real talk’ on these difficult issues, there needs to be a free flow of information between all the parties. Essential budget information needs to be shared with all the relevant stakeholders—parents, community, union leaders, and my administration,” he said. “We must strive for a process where critical information is shared. Otherwise, we will not achieve the best results for our students.”
Jackson said public charter schools are part of the problem.
“As you know, a $19 million budget gaps doesn’t happen overnight. Over the past several years, the district has seen an exodus of students to Alternative Public Schools. This trend has led to a decrease in revenue to the district, while the Alternate Public Schools have performed with mixed results,” he said. “However, the district administration must do more to retain students in our district.”
Jackson said the district needs to promote success stories, including its improved graduation rates in 2014 and the reduction in dropout rates.
“I am angry as every other resident in this city about what is taking place in our district. As a result, I am calling upon our leadership — local, county and state — to come to the table with viable solutions, not only this year but with a strategic budget plan to mitigate the risk of finding ourselves in this situation again,” he said. “To this end, I have called for meetings with district administration, union leadership, board of education members and state officials to determine the course of action that is best for our students.”
Union leaders say, however, that the city administration has played a major role in the budget shortfall.
According to the teachers union for the district, the city shorted the school district $80.2 million of its share from the local tax levy over the past six years. The city paid $21.1 million to the district this year, but should have paid $36.1 million. If the city pays the district what it owns for this year, the budget shortfall would be reduced to $4 million.