Trenton City Council President Challenges Teacher Pay and Poor Schools

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Many committee meetings become heated at times, with members vying for face time and soundbites.

Then there’s Trenton City Council–one political insider describes it as “New Jersey’s most dysfunctional governing body”–which takes chaos to a whole new level. 

Three weeks ago Council Vice President Marge Caldwell-Wilson resigned due to “irreconcilable differences” with President Kathy McBride. This was just before McBride refused to renew a contract with Trenton’s no-kill shelter called Trenton Animals Rock; volunteers spent days trying to find placements for 25 dogs and seven cats. Last Thursday two Council members logged off in protest over a “shouting match” between McBride and West Ward leader Robin Vaughn. 

And right about the same time, McBride refused to sign off on the city school district’s $24.2 million tax levy for school year 2022-2023, a routine task for an already-approved budget.

Why won’t McBride sign off on the local tax levy, a fraction of the district’s $419 million operating budget that has already been signed by Mayor Reed Gusciora, school board president Addie Daniels-Lane, and school business administrator Jayne Howard?

Let’s start a list.

  • McBride says she doesn’t want any money to go to the city’s seven charter schools, even though that money comes directly from the state, earmarked for tuition, with the district just writing the check for 3,400 students (half that many sitting on wait lists) and keeping 20% or so for postage and handling. 

(Someone tell her this is National Charter School Week.#LetMeLearn!)

  • According to the Trentonian, McBride “was infuriated with city educators who make salaries commensurate with teachers in better-performing neighboring districts.” 

(Sure, Trenton City teachers make a lot; according to the Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending, the district ranks 92 out of 95 peer districts in the category “Classroom Salaries and Benefits.” For instance the median teacher salary in Trenton—these are 2021 numbers— is about $80,000, which is higher than other nearby Mercer County districts with the exception of Princeton, where the median salary is $86,000. (Ewing: $63,000, Lawrence: $69,000; Hamilton: $73,000). Then again, teachers in high-needs schools should make more, shouldn’t they?)

  • From the Trentonian: “Trenton remains one of the lowest-performing districts in the state, yet keeps asking for more funding, McBride complained. She claimed educators aren’t doing enough to prepare Trenton students, adding that she had to fight for her own children to get services they needed to be successful.”

(That’s true: Trenton student outcomes are dismal. At  Trenton Central High, only one out of five students meet state expectations in reading and none do in math, which is why parents are lining up for charter schools, which McBride doesn’t want to pay for). 

  • McBride continues, “There are parents out there that don’t have the push and the family backing that I have. You people should be ashamed of yourselves. … When you come up here, come with facts; don’t come up exaggerating. No, I’m not wrong. Show me how the money follows the children.”

(Okay. The state has a school funding formula–here’s an Explainer—and Trenton currently allocates $19,278 per student. Due to the city’s level of poverty and the relatively low “Local Fair Share,” about ¾ of that money comes from state amd federal taxes: $310.3 million to be exact. That’s how the money follows the children.)

  • “I will not vote how anybody wants me to vote,” the council president continued. “I’m gonna vote my conscience. When I tell you a change is coming, trust me, a change is coming.”

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