Longport gets green light to attend Ocean City High School

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OCEAN CITY — The New Jersey Department of Education gave the Longport School District the go-ahead to send its students to Ocean City High School beginning in September.

The move would require the two districts to form an official sending/receiving relationship and would need the approval of the Ocean City Board of Education. Ocean City Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said district officials would meet with Longport officials next week to discuss numerous details.

“We’re honored that the Longport School District would want to have this opportunity, to send their students to the Ocean City School District,” Taylor said. “We are looking forward to sitting down and discussing the specifics.”

The Ocean City school board meets on Wednesday, June 25 and Taylor said the sending/receiving relationship would be on the agenda.

“We were just given the decision on Tuesday, at 5 p.m.,” Taylor said on Wednesday afternoon. “We really haven’t had time to discuss it yet. We are in the process of setting up a meeting with Longport officials.”

Unknown, she said, are the specifics, such as how many Longport students are in Atlantic City High School, how many attend private schools and how many would be enrolling for ninth grade.

“We need to discuss the specifics,” she said, before the school board can make a decision. Given the opportunity, some enrolled in private high schools may opt to attend OCHS instead.

David Hespe, acting commissioner of the state Department of Education, ruled that the Longport Board of Education can end its longstanding sending/receiving relationship with Atlantic City High School and instead send its students to Ocean City High School. That decision was released on Tuesday.

The Atlantic City School District can appeal the decision to the Superior Court Appellate Division.

Taylor said there are more questions than answers at this point, such as what happens to Longport high school-aged students already attending ACHS.

“We believe that there are nine students in ninth grade, but we don’t know how many other students would be coming,” she said.

The ruling states that Longport may sever or modify the existing sending/receiving relationship with ACHS to create a dual agreement with both districts.

“We need to find out their intentions,” Taylor said.

The sending/receiving relationship could be beneficial to the bottom line for the Ocean City School District. The Longport School District would pay the Ocean City School District tuition, $14,957 per student for the 2014-2015 school year. Establishing a new sending/receiving relationship with Ocean City would save the Longport School District about $9,000 per student.

Since there are Longport students already attending OCHS as School Choice students, the arrangement would also free up limited School Choice seats, permitting other students to attend OCHS. The program has helped to fill empty desks in the Ocean City School District, enabling the district to maintain programs and staffing levels. The district received $2.7 million from the state this year in School Choice aid.

Hespe’s decision reverses an earlier decision by Administrative Law Judge Bruce Gorman, who ruled that the removal of white students from Longport would cause an increase in racial imbalance at ACHS. Creating the new sending/receiving relationship would have a negative impact on the racial composition at ACHS, he ruled.

Hespe, however, ruled that the nine students from Longport attending ACHS comprise just 2 percent of the school’s 22 percent white population and therefor would not negatively impact the racial composition of the school.

Racial composition is one of three factors considered in ending a sending/receiving relationship. The move must not have a negative impact on the educational and financial condition of either district.

Hespe noted that by law, because severing the relationship would not impact the district under those three conditions, he must grant the severance.

He also ruled that a new sending/receiving relationship with Ocean City must be established for a minimum of five years.

Longport student in kindergarten through eighth grade attend the Margate public school system, through an established sending/receiving relationship.  

Enrollment has been declining in the Ocean City School District, falling from 2,248 in 2000 to 2,045 in 2010. Upper Township sends high school students to OCHS through a longstanding sending/receiving relationship and Upper Township’s enrollment has declined as well. More than 60 percent of the students in OCHS come from Upper Township.

The Longport Board of Education unanimously voted to formally ask the commissioner of education to allow it to sever its sending/receiving relationship with ACHS and establish a sending/receiving relationship with OCHS on Dec. 12, 2011.

The meeting was the third the board has held on the topic. The first, in July, 2011 explained the need for a feasibility study. The second meeting Dec. 1, 2011 presented the results of the study and explained the three basic requirements that must be met for a change in a sending/receiving status in any district to take place.

During the discussion after the motion was made to vote, school board solicitor George Miller said that with Longport having so few students in high school, the planned move meets the criteria of having no significant effect on the present receiving district.

The issue had been bandied about informally for about 15 years, Miller noted at the time, adding that the timing seemed right to take the next step.

A 2012 feasibility study, prepared by Centennium Consultants, LLC determined that there would be “no substantial negative impact” in three critical areas, financial, racial and educational to any of the three communities involved, Longport, Atlantic City and Ocean City.

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