Negotiations between the Atlantic City Aquatic Club and Atlantic City School District on Wednesday failed to produce a compromise on a new usage fee the swim team says it cannot afford.
“We’re following what we’ve always done,” said Joe Haney, president of the club’s Board of Directors. “All I know is that I have a bunch of kids who will be without a home in November.”
Since its inception 17 years ago, the club has paid just $7,000 or so annually to cover utilities and maintenance to use school pools — first at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. building and later at the high school — six days a week for most of the year. The team also let city residents join at a steep discount — $200 or so per year compared with an average $1,200 for nonresident athletes. Exact costs vary based on the swimmer’s ability and experience.
The school district decided over the summer that the team should pay the per-session rates charged any other nonprofit to use any of its three pools — the third is at the Uptown Complex. That amounts to $190 rental and $125 custodian fees, or a total $319 per session, Superintendent Donna Haye said.
That means that the team would spend for just 22 sessions — or fewer than four full weeks — what it normally would spend on an entire year using the eight-lane pool at the high school. For a full year, officials have estimated that would amount to a cost of $85,000 for the club to use the facility.
“I don’t know the history of it,” Haye said. “What the Board of Education, what the administration is doing, is following the board policy in place. It’s very admirable what the ACAC has done over the years, but ... this Board of Education and this administration is following the set board policy. They want to be consistent.”
A couple months into her new job, Haye said she’s not sure why that arrangement was different in the past.
“In these economic times, it’s a very big strain on Atlantic City High School (for the club to use the pool). The pool was built for the high school swimming team. MLK is the community pool,” she said late Wednesday.
The same rate, however, would apply to use that pool also, she said.
“They currently were in our pool six days a week,” she said. “So (maybe) the Aquatic Club could reduce the number of days they utilize the pool. Just like if I had reduced funding … I would perhaps have to adjust my programs or reduce (them) based on the funding we get or budget we have.”
In August, city Recreation Department representatives also stated the team wasn’t an affiliate, Haye said.
Neither Recreation Superintendent Shermaine Guenther-Gary nor Director of Health and Human Services Wilbur Banks was available late Wednesday. They did not attend the meeting with school and club representatives.
But Banks said earlier in the day he was disappointed to hear of the meeting’s outcome. He and Guenther-Gary also proposed a compromise last week that would have charged the team the difference between a $68,000 annual use fee and the total discount enjoyed by resident swimmers.
Haye said the district is looking into starting its own feeder program for district students in junior high and elementary school aimed at bolstering the competitive high school team.
To Haney, the school district seemed unwilling to compromise.
“It’s a shame. We went in with good intentions,” he said. “We’re all there for the children — and the children are the ones who are going to be hurt … (when) the program dies.”
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