ATLANTIC CITY — Channel 97, the city’s dormant public-access channel, will soon begin broadcasting school-related programming again, but there is no immediate plan to return its other content, including City Council meetings, to the air.

School district monitor Gary McCartney said ACHS TV production teacher Donald Howard has agreed to put school-related events on the air starting this month. The school board has approved paying Howard a maximum of $5,000 over the coming year for that work.

McCartney said he would be open to the city paying for coverage of its events but that such a decision is something “other groups will have to work out.”

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Derek Cason, the former media coordinator for the Atlantic City School District and the staffer who ran the station, was one of more than 200 school employees laid off this year.

Cason said Monday the channel has been dark for about three weeks. Its programming previously consisted of a variety of Atlantic City events and meetings, he said, including those of the school board, Atlantic City Council and the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders.

Cason said he filmed much of that content himself. He also edited the footage and handled the station’s technical needs.

“I tried to put everything relevant to this community on the air,” he said. “What I did was a labor of love.”

Atlantic City pays for the station’s broadcasting rights. Carson's $74,000 salary was paid by the school district.

But McCartney said Tuesday that arrangement wasn’t justifiable, especially considering Cason wasn’t an academic instructor.

“My job was to protect the classroom and the instruction of youngsters,” McCartney said, referring to the layoffs he approved. “I think the taxpayers would fully expect that we would contain costs in non-instructional areas first, and that we would try to continue delivering services at less cost.”

McCartney said he wasn’t familiar with the full range of programming formerly on Channel 97 but that it isn’t the cash-strapped district’s job to pay a staffer to cover city events.

Cason said he met with Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and Chris Filiciello, Guardian’s chief of staff, on Monday to discuss the station’s future.

“We want to see what options are available for us to make it operational again,” Filiciello said of Channel 97. Filiciello said the meeting went well but that no timetable exists for when city programming might be broadcast again.

Cason expressed doubts that his job could be easily replaced. He said he regularly made himself available at a variety of hours to cover area events, a task that would be hard for part-time employees or interns to replicate.

“Going out, covering meeting and plays and all the stuff that I used to do, I just don’t see it happening,” he said.

Education writer Diane D’Amico contributed to this story.

Contact: 609-272-7251


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