VENTNOR — Former Mayor Tim Kreischer attended the Ventnor Board of Education meeting Oct. 25 to ask the board to reinstitute the late bus for students attending Atlantic City High School who participate in sports and extracurricular activities.
“We all recognize that after-school activities are critical for a teenager’s life. It teaches discipline, time management and gives them the opportunity to be exposed to things we can’t offer in Ventnor,” Kreischer said.
Board member Kim Bassford, who is the district’s representative on the Atlantic City school board, said the Atlantic City Board of Education talked about bringing back the late bus but said it lacked the funding.
For many years, Atlantic City paid for a late bus to the Downbeach communities, but Brigantine, which also sends its students to ACHS, was paying for its own late bus, Bassford said. No other high school other than Atlantic County Institute of Technology provides late buses, board President James Pacanowski said.
“It was not eliminated by us. All the years we had it, it was provided by Atlantic City,” Pacanowski said.
One month into the 2016-17 school year, Atlantic City stopped paying for the late bus. That brought several parents to the Ventnor school board meeting complaining that their children were being negatively affected. The Ventnor school district picked up the cost for the remainder of the year but let parents know it would not be funded in the next school year.
“Parents were told in spring and received a letter in summer that the bus would not occur,” Pacanowski said.
Kriescher said the Ventnor district should absorb the cost of providing the bus.
Pacanowski said that to be fair to all students, the district would then also have to provide a bus for those who attend other out-of-area schools, such as Holy Spirit and Chartertech, at a cost of about $30,000 to $40,000.
“It comes down to put in a bus or cut a teacher,” he said.
“I am very passionate about our schools,” Kreischer said. “We are in the memory business. We are building memories these students will carry with them forever. I hate to see that eroded for $30,000 or $40,000.”
Pacanowski said the board was operating under a directive from the Board of Commissioners to present budgets with no tax increase.
“I guess my beef is with them,” Kreischer said. “Your job is to deliver a quality education.”
He said the commission’s recent contract negotiations with police, fire, public works and retirements should free up funds to cover the cost of the bus. Once neighboring Margate learns the bus is being reinstituted for Ventnor students, it might want to participate in a bus jointure, which would reduce costs, he said.
On Friday, Mayor Beth Holtzman said the school board reached out to her, saying not having the bus is problematic for Ventnor families.
Holtzman said her request that the board refrain from presenting budgets with tax increases was partially because of the 5.7-cent tax increase on the municipal side for 2017, but also because enrollment has dropped from 905 students in 2011 to 680 this year.
“The enrollment is decreasing every year, so the district’s total staffing needs to be looked at, not just the teachers, but the administration and support staff,” she said. “Besides the tax increase, how do you justify an increase with lower enrollment?”
Holtzman credited the school board with keeping taxes stable over the last five years and said she did not think funding the late bus “would be an issue” with the commissioners.
“The school board said they will take a look at the cost. They have come in at zero for about five years and don’t even increase their budgets by the 2 percent cap,” she said.
Pacanowski said the board reached out to bus companies to see how much it would cost, and they said no drivers are currently available.
In other business, the board accepted $42,081 in state emergency aid, which reinstated appropriations previously earmarked for construction services before the state adjusted aid figures in July. The district had planned to replace five heating, ventilation and air conditioning units this year but held the project off until next summer.
The district’s state aid figures for the 2017-18 school year were adjusted in July after the state budget was adopted. The budget called for some districts to receive more state aid, while other districts received less. Margate received a reduction of $10,812, Ventnor’s aid was reduced by $42,081 and Longport’s was reduced by $1,853. Atlantic City will receive about $5.4 million more.
Ventnor Business Adminstrator Terri Nowotny, who applied for the emergency aid reimbursement, announced that the district received the reimbursement at the meeting.