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Trenton School Board President Responds to Readers' Questions on Schools of Choice

Trenton Patch spoke with Trenton Board of Education President Mike Hawkins to clear the air about a few lingering questions regarding limited open enrollment.

Many Trenton Patch readers have been vocal about the Trenton Board of Education's recent .

Students from other districts are now allowed to attend Trenton schools for kindergarten and first and ninth grades. The district will accept up to 20 kindergartners, 10 first-graders and 30 ninth-graders.

Since Monday's decision, readers have begun and the Trenton Patch Facebook page. Among the comments were issues regarding overcrowding, discipline, sports and taxes.

, president of the , spoke to Trenton Patch editor Nate Stemen on Wednesday to answer questions and dispel misconceptions about limited open enrollment.

Hawkins, 35, has been a school board member for four years and a officer for more than 10 years. He recently became a handler in the K-9 division.

Here are the questions followed by Hawkins' answers:

What do you say to the people who are concerned that the district will begin accepting children with a history of disciplinary issues?

"That couldn't be more false. Obviously we aren't a full schools of choice (district). I understand people's concerns. The comments are, 'You're going to get other districts' discipline problems.' Anyone with a disciplinary problem, going back two years, will not be allowed in the district. Once they are here, they are subject to the exact same disciplinary standards."

Is there enough room in the schools to take the maximum amount of children (60) from other districts?

"We're not gong to do this to overcrowd the classrooms. If the maximum amount of students come in, that is only 2.2 percent of the entire student population. We already have 30-plus kids from other districts in our schools. They're the children of Trenton teachers.

"Even when we accept these students we are still leaving desks open for students that move to the district. We are not doing this to overcrowd our classrooms."

How do you respond to people upset they are forced to pay the Hold Harmless tax in Trenton, while families from other district don't have to pay this tax?

"I understand that. Each city has their own taxes. Not a lot of cities have the hold harmless. You're (Trenton residents) paying a little extra, but these parents (coming from outside districts) are paying over $1,000 in gas each school year to get their kids to school.

"We cannot increase revenue. This is our only way of increasing revenue."

What do you say to parents worried their children might lose a spot on a sports team next year due to students coming in from other districts?

"We haven't opened it to the tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades for this reason, among others. If they (incoming students) choose to play sports, they will be subject to the same standards. We aren’t recruiting. The main goal of schools of choice is not to enhance our athletic teams.

"It is about education and opportunity. Not athletics."

When you take parents' reactions to the decision into consideration, are you worried current Trenton students may begin to bully or intimidate incoming students from other districts?

"We've preached and practiced anti-bullying. I believe our students are above that, especially at the younger level. What we practice here is tolerance for everyone.

"People move to Trenton for the services that go beyond schools i.e. police, fire, garbage pickup etc. When these people come in I hope they are encouraged to move here. The best way to promote our district is word of mouth."

If you have a question you'd like answered, please ask it in the comment section below and Trenton Patch will try to get it answered for you as soon as possible.

*A previous version of this story said the cost for driving students to Trenton schools from another district was $1,000 per month.

Kevin Webb April 20, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Anna, Obviously you dont want to see the whole big picture, Athletics is just one of the many issues with the whole SOC program. We are just responding to your reply about 9th grade athletics. Based upon past studies/surveys that the Board has put out over the years the City of Trenton residents clearly have said they do not want SOC and the board clearly went against what the residents of this city want. The board's and super.'s reactive approach to everything over the years is clearly not working. Time to re elect a new school board.
trenton resident 1116 April 20, 2012 at 12:30 PM
i'm concerned as a resident because we as a community take pride in our city and school system. This SOC nonsense is going to ultimately be the downfall of our city. If you haven't noticed there are several other cities that have gone to school of choice and thats fine, for them, not us. How is it that as a city when SOC talks came up it went to the polls and the people of Trenton voted it down. Now the school board goes behind the backs of the citizens and passes SOC, after we shot it down because of the ramifications we believe will hurt our city. This is typical government nonsense putting 300k ahead of the citizens votes. How is this possible? Didn't we vote these school board members in office because we felt they had our best interests in mind? I'm sure there are plenty of alternatives to solve this situation besides taking the easy way out and taking the money and subjecting our kids to open enrollment. If you haven't noticed we live next to one of the most dangerous major city in the united states, this is unacceptable. If this goes thru mark my words we are done as a leader and roll model for what a good wholesome community is supposed to be.
Trenton Resident with kids April 20, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Anna, we moved here 17 years ago for the schools not the athletics – let's get that straight. I apologize the way my response sounded. I support Trenton schools by approving taxes/bond plus volunteering my time. I know the s/board is dealing with a difficult reality. We need to bring in new families to Trenton to provide sustainable revenue. The housing crisis has paralyzed home sales for those that need to sell to buy. BUT it's a GREAT opportunity for young couples that don't have an existing mortgage. SOC provides NO incentive to move into Trenton now. And some parents may now decide to put their kids in private schools. The Detroit area has been loosing population for years. So all of the schools districts are cannibalizing each other for kids (aka $$$). Moving kids around just fractures the communities Trenton residents have been generous with approving taxes/bonds to support the schools. SOC kills additional/extending school taxes in ANY district. Why? 1) Anyone sending their kids to "A" district will not vote for taxes in their home district "B". 2) The "A" district will not have any chance of additional/extending taxes because the residents don't want to pay for "B" district's kids. SOC is not a sustainable solution. I wonder what Trenton residents would have voted for to increase Revenue $300K: Higher taxes or SOC. I would gladly give back this year's lower tax bill to keep Trenton Schools supported.
Anna April 21, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Will those of you who are calling for the heads of those school board members who voted for limited schools of choice please go to the district website and find the SupeScoop that followed the last meeting? The text of the interim superintendent's presentation to the board is there. This includes the whole picture of what has been going on for almost 10 years. I know for a fact few, if any, of you have been to a school board meeting in the past couple of years. If one wants to be informed, then one has to make an effort other than complaining after a difficult decision is made. Without an increase in revenue, Trenton Public Schools would be out of money next year. The state does not allow that and could impose an emergency financial manager to do whatever he or she pleases. This whole situation is really the result of decreased funding per student from the state and declining enrollment in the district with expenses which are out of the board's control increasing every year.
adam sullivan April 21, 2012 at 12:28 PM
sounds like if we don't have the kids to fill the classrooms we need to make cuts, every other industry had to make tough cuts to make them more competitive. staff how many teachers we need, not bring in kids to fill a quota and cash in the check. teachers are no different, its a job and thats all. maybe they need to implement a 30 and out rule for teachers and get rid of high paid teachers like Mr. Thorn (just an example) he just retired after about 50 years of service and being paid top dollar for the past 40 years. there are many ways to save money or make a budget, not take the easy way out and take the money. This is nothing against teachers, they are the backbone of our schools, but one thing i learned in Trenton schools is to think outside the box, something our school board can't figure out. As for attending meetings, we tell the school board we don't want school of choice and what do they do, implement it in a "limited" fashion. Its an easy concept, if you don't have enough, you can't spend it. They have never been shy about pink slipping teachers every summer, they need to take a class in economics or appropriate financial management.

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