ATLANTIC CITY - Eleven school employees will lose their jobs, including City Councilman Marty Small, and 24 other vacant jobs will be eliminated in the budget voters will consider April 20.

All eight present school board members voted Monday night for the $171.8 million budget, which is about $6 million larger than last year's.

The tax rate would rise so that a property assessed at $100,000 would owe $584 to the school district, up from $523.

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The budget incorporates some inescapable growth, such as construction costs and contracted salary increases, Superintendent Fredrick Nickles said. The district is losing $7.2 million of its state aid next year, and Nickles said county Superintendent Thomas Dowd wanted the district to cut $10 million in costs, which was negotiated down to about $2 million.

"It was probably one of the most difficult meetings I've had in 40 years of education," Nickles said.

The cuts include all "nonessential programs," including the after-school activities Small coordinated and the swimming program taught by state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who as a tenured teacher is being reassigned within the district. Middle-school athletics and night school will be eliminated, too.

The other 10 employees scheduled to be laid off are teachers, Business Administrator Lisa Mooney said. The 11 employees to be laid off make up less than 1 percent of the district's 1,176-member faculty.

Small attended the meeting but did not speak publicly there. He said he plans to resume classes for his master's degree in education.

"I'm just praying that a solution can be found between now and June 30," Small said. "I'm going to work just as hard as I have all year. I just want to thank the parents and the children for a wonderful five years. Hopefully, this isn't the last ride."

Whelan lamented the loss of his program and its effect on the students.

"It's a reality of economics," Whelan said. "I've been fortunate to have this job for a lot of years. I love teaching swimming."

Said resident Sherry Elder, "We're in an area with ocean - we need that swimming program. I don't even know how they could call it nonessential."

For the foreseeable future, any employee who leaves the district will not be replaced, and class sizes will grow as a result, Nickles said.

The board meeting ended the nine-year tenure of member RaShun Stewart and the six-year tenure of member John Dollard, neither of whom are running for re-election April 20.

Several members and administrators commended the two men for their tenacity during a more combative era of board business, and they in turn praised the progress the board has made.

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