For the last month Trenton City Council President Kathy McBride has been refusing to allow the City Council to approve the school district budget because she doesn’t want any of the $419 million spending plan to go to charter school tuition.
Meanwhile, the 18,000 students in the district are, says the Trentonian, being “held hostage” by McBride’s antics, which she also ascribes to low student performance and graduation rates.
All New Jersey school districts are required to pass through tuition to private pre-school programs, private special education schools, other public districts when students are sent there, and public charter schools. In Abbott/SDA districts like Trenton, most of the annual revenue, including tuition costs, comes from state and federal sources. The 2022-2023 budget requires the Council to approve $24.2 million as the property tax levy, which is pro forma: the school board, the Executive County Superintendent, and the Board of School Estimates have already signed off. When McBride refused to allow the Council to vote, district officials were so puzzled they contacted the Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan at the State Department of Education for advice. (It’s unclear how that went.)
How bad is it? Next Thursday, August 4th, at the next Council meeting, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora says his administration will issue a resolution to force a vote.
This stand-off is a power move by McBride to try to intimidate Gusciora, whom she regards as an enemy.
McBride is often in the news. She was featured in a New York Times article for describing negotiations with a Jewish attorney this way: “They were able to wait her out and jew her down.” In April Council Vice President Marge Caldwell-Wilson resigned, citing “irreconcilable differences with McBride and her desire to focus on the concerns of constituents.” McBride killed a $375K contract extension with Trenton Animals Rock, the nonprofit that was overseeing the city’s animal shelter, which led to citywide protests. At one point she had a warrant out for her arrest on charges of harassment and simple assault.
Gene Bouie, a Trenton Board of Education member, told the Trentonian, “What’s at jeopardy if this thing isn’t resolved? There could be layoffs. It’s that serious. There’s 18,000 children that are going to be impacted. This isn’t about the money, and it can’t be about the children. It makes no sense.”
Gusciora wrote in a letter to McBride, “I and the residents of Trenton trust that the members of City Council will fulfill their responsibilities and stop playing politics with the children of the Capital City.”
The children of the Capital City already have enough to contend with. On the latest state assessments called Start Strong, fewer than 10% of Trenton High 10th-graders were reading proficiently; 83.3% received the lowest grade, “needs strong support.” Every student who took the proficiency test in algebra 1 “needs strong support.” The graduation rate at Trenton Central High is 66%.
(The graduation rate among the city’s seven charter schools, the subject of McBride’s ire, is 92% and student proficiency is way above district schools.)
If McBride cared about Trenton’s children, she’d either allow the Council to vote for the budget or find a different hostage.
“We really have a board that cares,” said Bouie, who has a granddaughter attending school in the district. “I’m at my wits end here. My prayer is that our sister reconsiders. I really hope she doesn’t, in her heart, believe that the mayor is running the school district. I haven’t been asked one time to do anything. Our children have enough problems.”
(Photo courtesy of the Trentonian.)