By Briana Vannozzi
“It seems like every year we get to the same place, we have the same deficits, but nothing is being fixed,” said Samantha Lamb, academic director for the Special Parent Advocacy Group.
This time, its pink slips for 165 Trenton public school employees and closing the Stokes Early Childhood Center, which services special needs students. It’s the second year in a row the financially troubled district has closed a school and laid off staff.
“When I looked at the overall cuts, it seemed like there was an attack on special education students,” said Trenton Education Association President Naomi Johnson-Lafleur.
Trenton school district is adopting a $299 million budget, with a $6 million hole.
Plans call for eliminating 44 teachers, 23 secretaries and 92 paraprofessionals, along with dozens of others. The district tells NJTV News it will outsource the work of physical, occupational and speech therapists to private vendors.
“These are the people that are essential in the classroom, especially the paraprofessionals because these are sort of the hands-on people who are walking with kids who have physical disabilities, who are changing diapers for students who can’t use the bathroom on their own,” Lamb said.
“How can you, in good faith, say that this budget is in the best interest of students when you’re planning to replace quality services with inferior services? Because you’re out to the lowest bidder,” Johnson-Lafleur said.
The district reportedly calling the cuts painful, but claiming hands are tied thanks to flat school funding for the last six years. Special needs parent Lamb points out that special education is the most expensive to fund and often the first to get cut.
“We are the capital city and we get shortchanged each year when it comes to municipal aid. We don’t have a solid tax base,” said Sen. Shirley Turner.
The mayor, who was unavailable today, has previously emphasized the expansion of charter schools in Trenton. The mayor’s office saying 2,800 out of 12,000 students are attending a charter — taking about $20,000 each with them.
“I introduced a bill which would place a moratorium on charter enrollment until we can find a way to ensure that the students that are being left behind in the districts get the kid of funding that will stabilize the districts,” Turner said.
Trenton schools are off on spring break this week, but a meeting has been scheduled for a week from today between the district, the unions and the state monitor to see what, if anything, can be done to save these jobs.