David Von Roehm, the television teacher at Charter Tech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point, likes to provide his students with as many hands-on opportunities as possible.
But reductions in state aid have meant Von Roehm could let his students participate in only one of two major projects he had planned. They could have traveled in October to the crossroads of highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Miss., to help film a documentary about a hotel planned for the site immortalized in the songs “Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson and “Crossroads” by Cream. Or they could fly to California to run the Paso Digital Film Festival this month.
Von Roehm picked the film festival.
“I came from making independent films. We make them no matter what. There were ways to get around it (a lack of money),” said Von Roehm, 47, who added that students must pay their own way to participate in the movie-related trips.
“It does hurt. ... Some time ago, I seemed to remember a kid who (I thought) really should go. We made it happen somehow. We had department money.”
Excess funding is hard to find in this time of fiscal cutbacks. Communications media programs are among the most expensive classes a high school can offer because of the hardware and software needed to give students experience with equipment.
Several districts that offer these types of courses in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties, or the programs themselves, have kept operating by obtaining money from sources other than just state aid and local taxes. For instance, Oakcrest High School held a fundraising event for its media and communication program over two days earlier this month.
Matt Torres, 17, of Absecon, signed up for the Mississippi and California field trips.
“I was hoping to go on both, but one fell through,” said Torres, a Charter Tech senior, who added he was not sure he would have been able to afford the Mississippi trip also if it had happened. “The L.A. trip came out of my and my parents’ pockets. We have to come up with our own funding ideas. I have a small job. I saved up for a while.”
While in California, Torres helped the festival film behind-the-scenes footage of its events and also screened some of the digital films.
Torres did not participate when Von Roehm, principal Janice Strigh and four Charter Tech students journeyed last December to Texas to work on a film with country legend Willie Nelson. He said he would sign up if another Texas trip happens.
State budget cuts caused Charter Tech to eliminate its full-time substitute teacher position, which means when Von Roehm heads out on a weekday field trip with students, other teachers have to cover his classes, Strigh said. Supplies and purchases have been cut by 50 percent, he said. After Von Roehm makes a budget request to Strigh, the two decide what needs to be purchased and what can wait.
“One of the things we are very fortunate in is that we get federal Perkins money. We were able to purchase some of the things he needed this year with our Perkins Grant,” Strigh said.
The Perkins Grant’s purpose is to develop the skills of secondary students who enroll in vocational technical education programs.
Besides money from state aid and local school taxes, the Vineland School District’s communications departments sells copies of its programs, including coverage of school sporting events, parades and public affairs programs. The department also raises money through sponsorships, said F. John Sbrana, Vineland’s communication coordinator.
The program has not experienced any cutbacks yet, Sbrana said.
“Like every department that’s under the microscope, I’m concerned about the future of the communications program, and especially TV. I think that with all the funding cutbacks, that’s something the district is obviously going to be looking at,” Sbrana said.
Vineland’s communications department and its TV group — VPS Broadcasting — annually videotapes more than 500 hours of news, sports and a variety of public affairs programs related to the mission of the school and the community. The programs air on Comcast Channel 9 and Verizon FiOS Channel 41.
“We’re concerned like everyone else, and optimistic that we will be able to keep it going,” Sbrana said.
Ocean City High School is lucky that it finished its refurbished TV-media production lab in partnership with the Ocean City Free Public Library during the past two years.
“We have a lot of computer hardware and software in there, a lot of equipment. It is very expensive,” high school Principal Matthew Jamison said. “Fortunately, the community of Ocean City High School supports this technology, and we have not experienced any significant cuts in this program. The voters supported our budget.”
During these times, the goal is to maintain what the high school is doing and keep moving forward, Jamison said. A department’s goals for the next academic year will determine whether it receives more or less money than in the current year, he added.
The Lacey Township School District has one of the oldest TV programs in the state. It has been in operation for about 30 years.
State aid to the school district dropped by more than $4 million, a decrease of more than 14 percent, for the current academic year. Three factors allowed the TV program to operate basically the same this year, Superintendent Richard P. Starodub said.
All district employees agreed to a salary freeze, in one of fewer than 25 districts in a state with more than 600 school districts to do so, Starodub said. The district started reaping the benefits of its 1.5-megawatt solar project, which reduces its $1 million-per-year electricity bill by at least 30 percent. The district also was able to sell Solar Recovery Energy Credits, which will generate $3 million over a three-year period.
“We’ll make that program work in these difficult times, somehow, some way,” Starodub said. “We were shocked when we saw the more than 14 percent reduction in state aid. We had no idea that was coming. Having said that, we have no idea what’s coming next year.”
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