Budget Projections Show Possible Continued Need for Schools of Choice in Trenton
Budget projections for the coming years leave Trenton Public Schools with a need for additional revenue.
Despite backlash from some Trenton Patch readers, Trenton Public Schools could potentially remain schools of choice indefinitely due to projected drops in enrollment and state funding.
Mike Hawkins, president of the Trenton Board of Education, said a decision to continue limited open enrollment, after a one-year district commitment expires, would rely on a number of factors.
"We want to examine it," Hawkins said. "We want to make sure it's working before we make it long term. We want to make sure that it's something that is a benefit to our district."
Hawkins said class sizes play a large role in determining continued limited open enrollment.
"Class sizes are recommended by administration, and we will go by their recommendation," Hawkins said.
Though there is not a standard class size recommended by the Michigan Department of Education, class sizes in Trenton elementary schools are typically between 25-30 students and about 30 students in the middle and high schools according to interim Superintendent Larry Leapley.
"They (administrators) would never overcrowd the classrooms," Leapley said. "They would have to see what the availability is in terms of any openings."
Leapley's budget forecasts project a continued need for additional revenue to the district.
All state funding for schools is based on per pupil count and Trenton Public Schools continue to enroll fewer and fewer students year after year.
Since 2002, the district has seen a loss of about 600 students—equivalent to about $5 million in lost revenue.
Leapley projects continued losses in enrollment and state funding from now until the 2014-15 school year. He anticipates an additional loss of 60 students equivalent to about $460,000 for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. This is a projected total loss of about $900,000.
Switching over to schools of choice now qualifies the district to gain an additional $75 per out-of-district student. When added to per pupil funding, 60 new students to the district could mean about $300,000 in additional revenue for the district.
When added to increased costs for wages and benefits Leapley anticipates a deficit of nearly $1.5 million for the 2013-14 school year and $2 million for the 2014-15 school year.
Retirement costs currently make up about 23 percent of total annual expenditures. Leapley anticipates this number to inflate to just over 30 percent by the 2014-15 school year.
District administrators have been balancing the budget by taking money from the general fund balance to make up for consistent deficits. The general fund balance is currently about $800,000, down from about $7 million in 2002.
Costly building repairs made between 2002 and 2008, before a bond issue passed, reduced the general fund significantly.
Leapley anticipates a deficit of about $1.4 million for the next school year, which could reduce the general fund balance to about $97,000—the lowest it has ever been in district history.
Additional revenue is a must for the district, but Hawkins and Leapley said they wouldn’t consider extending schools of choice without first taking a look at the pros and cons.
One thing is for sure: the board members do not plan to allow full open enrollment according to Hawkins.
"If were going to do schools of choice, I see it continuing on a limited basis," Hawkins said. "If things go well, we'll look at where there's openings and see if that's an option. No one on the board is open to a full schools of choice option."