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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 18, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Mike hawkins answers are typical politician style, for example the sports answer: "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." The High school starts at 9th grade, there are many freshman that make sports teams at the high school. In regards to the hold harmless issue: "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 month to get their kids to school. The students must be driving from another state or county because if you take $1,000.00 and divide it by approx. 24 days a month for school it comes to over $41.00 a day for gas. That is approx. 10 gallons of gas at say 25 miles per gallon , they got to be driving 200-250 miles away to spend that much.
Tracy Loger April 18, 2012 at 06:30 PM
I HIGHLY doubt someone is going to pay 1000.00 a month in gas for their kids to come to Trenton. That statement was extremely exaggerated and not realistic. I also have the same quesiton as Sonya.............sure you can leave an empty desk and it may only be 2% of the school population, but when you already have close to 30 and sometimes more than 30 in a classroom, where are you possibly going to put them. What is the extra money going to be used for we are supposedly gaining from having these students? More teachers? I certainly hope so.
Tracy Loger April 18, 2012 at 06:31 PM
and honestly, I think you will see so many people putting their kids in private schools and leaving Trenton over this, space wont be an issue. I am anxious to see just how much we actually gain from this. And, I hope I am wrong and we truly do benefit from it.
Nate Stemen (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Only students in kindergarten and first and ninth grades will be allowed in the district according to President Mike Hawkins. Siblings of accepted students cannot come to the district unless they are in the above grade levels.
Nate Stemen (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 06:38 PM
I am working on finding a specific number for you. The trouble here is there is only a specific number for the lower grades, which we will get for you. However, the ninth grade is tricky because there are so many factors ie class selection and academic level.
Nate Stemen (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 06:40 PM
The projected class sizes are 25 students per class for kindergarten and first grade. No number yet on ninth grade due to the difficulties in narrowing down a specific number.
Nate Stemen (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 06:43 PM
That was a typographical error on my part, Kevin. It is supposed to say per "school year." Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Nate Stemen (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 06:45 PM
That was a typographical error on my part, Tracy. It is supposed to say per "school year." Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Nate Stemen (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 06:46 PM
The projected class sizes are 25 students per class for kindergarten and first grade. No number yet on ninth grade due to the difficulties in narrowing down a specific number.
Kevin Webb April 18, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Nate, we also pay for gas to get our kids to school every day on top of the taxes we pay especially now since they have eliminated some of the busing.So the point made is mute in regards to gas, it is nonsense and Hawkins response to try to justify their poor decision.
Elaine Franzel April 18, 2012 at 08:23 PM
My child in kindergarten already has 25 in his class @ Hedke
Tracy Loger April 18, 2012 at 08:43 PM
ok....thanks Nate. 25 students per class is not bad. I am ok as long as it is under 30. My daughter is in 2nd grade and has 26 currently(-2 from the beginning of the year due to students moving) and that is fine. I will have a kindergardener in 2 years and hope the number do not exceed 25. That is a lot of 5 year olds for one teacher. Also, is there a way you can find out what they plan on doing with the money. Are they still getting rid of 3 teachers next year? Thanks!
Anna April 18, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Kevin, 9th graders that make sports teams are usually on the 9th grade teams. Some may make it to the junior varsity. Few are good enough for varsity. Do you really think out of 30 school of choice 9th graders more than a handful would get on the varsity squad of any sport?
Jenn Keller April 18, 2012 at 09:59 PM
At Anderson we have 25 kids in kindergarten and 1st grade plus a k/1 class with 17 kids. If we added kids we would be able to have 3 full classes of each grade with less students per class than this year. We have the room. If we do not get more kids into the school we will have a k/1 classroom and a higher number in the other classes. I'm not sure why anyone would leave the district over that - plus none of. the other grades at the elementary level would change. Same numbers as this year.
Carrie A April 18, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Will this move guarentee no teacher pink-slips?
Trenton Resident with kids April 19, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Kevin Webb has some interesting points, let me take these further: 1) $1000 in gas spent by SOC parents per year: with gas at $4.00/gallon, ave gas mileage 15/gallon, 2 trips/day, 38 weeks. This equates to a 10 mile drive to get to Trenton. Not likely to happen but what does it mean anyway even if they spent $10,000??? 2) 9th grade sports: I want all the board members who voted for SOC to be in charge of telling the Trenton resident that she/he didn't make the team when TBD # SOC kids did. I would rather pay more taxes than let this mess loose......there I said it.
Thonya Huddleston April 19, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Thanks for the answers... I did a little research and it looks like they are projecting class sizes to stay the same and possibly decrease in some cases? (approx. 29-31 in 1st grade now) I hope this proves to be true but I still think 25 5 year olds with one teacher for 7 hours a day is a lot! I hope they use some of that $310,000 to hire some full time aides!
Carrie A April 19, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Will going SOC guarantee no teacher layoffs? For how long?
Stefanie Nicole Lewis April 19, 2012 at 02:47 PM
I would be pulling my kid and going private, but paying Trenton taxes, I can't afford it! I never minded the high taxes before, because a huge bonus for Trenton was being NOT a SOC!
Bonnie Argue April 19, 2012 at 03:02 PM
We moved our family here when my daughter was in first grade. She is now a senior. I've barely scrapped by paying more money to keep my three girls in this school district because it is one of the best downriver. It is disheartening to me that people outside the district are now going to be allowed the same benefits after I've struggled for so long. Very disappointed in this decision. I may just pack up and move to another city now. My twins will be in ninth grade next year and can start over in a more affordable city.
Tracy Loger April 19, 2012 at 04:09 PM
I think people will leave the district because you can get a lot more house and newer for a lot less money in other cities. And there are other cities that have good school disricts besides Trenton. I just know a lot of people who stayed in Trenton because they liked the idea that it wasnt SOC. Now that it is, nothing is holding them back.
Kevin Webb April 19, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Anna, In regards to 9th graders making the sports teams, I can name alot of players in different sports that have made varsity as a freshman. I wont name them on here. The point is kids in Trenton go thru local baseball/softball/hockey, etc.. programs, they play middle school sports, etc.. with hopes of being able to play for their high school teams. It does not matter if it is Varsity or JV Trenton kids take pride in playing for their highschool, has played ball, hockey etc.. with kids they have grown up with over the years living in our city, Then when they finally get to high school they are cut because they took a SOC player who has never been envolved in Trenton Sports, etc.. who has not put in all the years of playing to make the High school team. It is a slap in the face to our Trenton kids who have worked hard over years with hopes of playing for their high school. I dont care if it is 30 kids or one kid, even if one trenton kid gets cut becus of a SOC t is complete b.s.
Trenton Resident with kids April 19, 2012 at 07:58 PM
And to add to that: I think the Board of Ed should be involved in informing the Trenton athlete that he/she will be cut in favor of an SOC athlete. They need to deal with this directly.
Sonya Smith April 19, 2012 at 11:07 PM
What is the plan for the money brought in by SOC?
Anna April 20, 2012 at 02:59 AM
Kevin and Trenton Resident, perhaps both of you would be happier if the school board chose to save $276,460 by cutting athletics altogether? Or maybe get rid of all bussing for $400,00. This would be much better than bringing in money to the district. Teachers could be laid off too. Class size is not as important as having a Trenton kid possibly getting cut from a team. I see your priorities now.
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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