Ocean City school board to vote Wednesday on Longport students

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OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Board of Education will vote to formally enter a sending/receiving relationship with the Longport Board of Education at a Wednesday, Aug. 6 board meeting.

The Longport Board of Education voted to send its students – who have been in a sending/receiving relationship with Atlantic City - to Ocean City High School at a Monday, July 7 board meeting.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic City School District has filed with the Superior Court Appellate Division a motion of intent to appeal a New Jersey Department of Education decision making the new sending/receiving relationship possible. Atlantic City also asked that the judge issue a stay, preventing Longport from entering the new relationship with Ocean City.

“The whole thing is a mess,” said Joe Clark, president of the OCBOE. Ten Longport students have picked classes at OCHS and participated in athletic practices for fall sports. Four of the students have given up prime School Choice seats to other students.

In June, 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 OCHS beginning in September.

The move required the two districts to form an official sending/receiving relationship and would need the approval of the Ocean City Board of Education, up for a vote in Ocean City on Wednesday.

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

Ocean City School District Solicitor Michael Stanton said the district is taking a wait-and-see approach to the notice of appeal, but took action on the stay request.

“I filed an appeal,” he said. “The students are already registered, some of them gave up their School Choice seats and they are planning on coming.

“I think it’s a tough row to hoe. There is a pretty high standard that they have to meet to get the stay. One thing you have to show is harm, that the decision somehow harms the students.

“In this case, the stay would harm the students, not leaving Atlantic City. They have their hearts set on attending Ocean City High School, they chose to do this. There are a lot of ramifications to making the kids wait. There would be irreparable harm done.”

Stanton said Atlantic City is now saying that severing the relationship will affect the racial balance at Atlantic City High School.

“It has a negligible impact,” he said.

Clark said that Atlantic City has stated that their decisions are “all about the kids.”

“If they’re all about the kids, then why are they doing this?” he said. “Why not give the kids a choice, to go to Ocean City or Atlantic City? If you’re all about the kids, then do the right thing.”

Longport has joined Ocean City in opposing the stay.

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.

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 removing them would not hurt the racial composition of the school.

Racial composition is one of three factors considered in ending a sending/receiving relationship. The move also must not hurt the educational or 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.

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 Ocean City High Scool 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.

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.

Representatives of the Ocean City School District, including Superintendent Kathleen Taylor, OCHS Principal Matthew Jamison, Guidance Director Eric Ortolf and board members Clark and Jacqueline McAllister attended the meeting to advise parents about making the transition.

“We are excited about the opportunity to educate Longport students and are ready to offer transition services to parents and students,” Taylor told Longport parents. “We have a strong, diverse academic program and the faculty is dedicated to making it work for your children.”

Clark said parents were very appreciative of the opportunity to attend the school district

“They show a real commitment to education, we heard it loud and clear,” he said.

The only concern that Ocean City board members have is that Longport remains vigilant about residency requirements, so others don’t try to forge Longport addresses to get to OCHS.

“We asked them to do their due diligence,” he said.

OCHS currently has 1,200 students and 1,480 seats available, Taylor said.

According to Longport Board of Education President Carl Tripician, letters were sent to parents of all high school and eighth grade students asking them to inform the board of their choice of high schools by June 24. Five out of nine incoming freshmen will be going to OCHS in September.

Tripician said all but two families indicated that they want to send their teens to OCHS. Any students currently attending ACHS may stay there or switch to OCHS, but until the board hears from officials in Atlantic City, it is uncertain if the two students will be accepted at ACHS.

Tripician said the district would continue to “push the issue” for these two families, as they always wanted a dual relationship. He said the board would formally request that ACHS accept the two students.

Atlantic City Superintendent of Schools Donna Haye told The Current students could attend ACHS in September by applying for the School Choice program, which includes educational programming for fine arts, ROTC, radio and television production, music and visual and performing arts.

“We always had a wonderful relationship with Longport and the students did well here,” Haye said. “We were surprised the lawsuit to sever the relationship was brought.”

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