HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — The girls in the dance program at Absegami High School cried through much of Monday night’s meeting of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Board of Education, as they realized their group probably won’t exist next year.
Members of the Absegami football team lined one wall, and said their coach — who could lose his job next year — encourages them to do well in class as well as on the field.
But the school board, faced with a loss of $3.3 million in state aid, voted 8-to-1 to eliminate 43 positions in the two high schools. Lois Garrison cast the dissenting vote.
More than 100 people filled the meeting room at Oakcrest High School, taking up every seat, standing against the walls and spilling out into the lobby. The parents and students said they appreciated the bind school board members are in, but they want their teachers spared.
With retirements and other attrition, about 27 district employees will lose their jobs, said board President John Houck Sr.
“This is one of those formal steps that needs to be taken,” so the laid-off teachers get proper notice, Houck told the crowd. “It doesn’t mean it’s the end result.”
The dance students, whose program is slated to be eliminated, told the school board how much it means to them.
If she didn’t have the dance program, she wouldn’t do well in her other classes, said freshman Courtney Jack.
“Dance is what keeps me on track,” Jack said. “My mom yells at me and it goes right over my head.”
Sophomore Morgan Kirner said she wants to enroll in the dance program at the University of Michigan. If her application shows she was in the Absegami dance group for sophomore year but not the next two years, she worries she will look like a quitter.
College dance programs are very competitive, and taking away the Absegami group will put the students at a disadvantage when they try to go to the next level, said her mother, Barbara Kirner.
Sophomore Melissa McCann said if she and the other dancers decide to go to CharterTech High School (for the performing arts) in Somers Point next year, the Greater Egg Harbor district would have to pay tuition that might add up to more than the dance teachers’ salaries.
The football players and their parents had a different concern. Coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. is a great inspiration to the students and works hard to secure them college football scholarships, they said, but he is on the layoff list.
“There are high schools all over New Jersey who would love to have this guy as a football coach,” said John Seddon, whose son plays on the team. “By getting rid of him, you’re getting rid of a bright star that other schools would love to have.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who can motivate me so much,” said football player Dave Correa, saying Scuderi paid attention to him and urged him to get his school grades up.
One boy said he probably won’t be able to go to college if Scuderi is let go.
Scuderi has been in the district for only two years, and “if X number of bodies have to go, there’s a pecking order that has to be done,” Houck said. “Seniority prevails.”
Board members said the budget is not final, and they urged the students and parents to visit the offices of local legislators and inundate them with letters to influence them to restore some of the funding Gov. Chris Christie has proposed to take from the district.
“There’s not a politician who doesn’t pay a great deal of attention when a large group of people comes to their office or writes to them,” said board member Maripat Perrone.
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