Trenton school budget deficit forces closure, job cuts

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More than 160 staffers could be forced to look for new jobs. (WPVI)

More than 160 staffers could be forced to look for new jobs due to plans to shut down a school in Trenton, New Jersey.

The plan is not sitting well with parents, who are worried about what will happen to their kids. But the school district says it does not have a choice.

The district says it all boils down to money. With the state aid going down over the past couple of years and costs going up, school officials say cuts are the only way to balance the district's $298 million budget.

Community members in Trenton met at a local church Wednesday afternoon to respond to the Trenton school district's plan to close down the early childhood learning center at Stokes Elementary School, and lay off 167 teachers and staff throughout the district.

The interim superintendent, Lucy Feria, says the cuts are necessary because the district is facing a $5.9 million budget deficit.

Feria explains, "It has been the most difficult and painful process that I have ever been through in my life. The money coming into our school district just does not match the cost."

The cuts will affect teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries and administrators, and outsource the work of physical, speech and occupational therapists.

Trenton Education Association President Naomi Johnson-Lafleur says, "Another 90 residents of Trenton having to not be able to pay their city taxes, not being employed."

Stokes Elementary on Parkside Avenue is home to an early childhood learning center that services pre-K special needs students and regular students. Parents and advocates for the disabled have concerns about moving children to other schools.

Samantha Lamb has a child who attends Stokes. She tells us, "So now there are fewer available to provide services and you are splitting them up and spreading them throughout the city."

Nicole Whitfield is on the Special Parent Advisory Group. She says, "It's not safe to put the 3 and four-year-olds in the regular schools with the bigger kids. These kids are nonverbal. They are physically disabled."

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson says part of the problem is that a growing number of students - 2,800 of almost 12,000 - are attending charter schools, draining dollars from public schools.

Mayor Jackson tells us, "Every time a child will leave out of the Trenton District and go to any charters, dollars follow. Specifically somewhere around $17,300."

Activist plan to fight the layoffs

Janice Williams of the Trenton Education Association says, "We're here to fight, we are fired up, we are ready to go and we are going to save our jobs and we're going to save our school district."

Different meetings have been going on since these cuts were announced. The mayor, the union, and the residents are all looking to see if there is a way these cuts can be dialed back.

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