Exterior of the Atlantic City High School for stock, Monday 4/29/02. VERNON OGRODNEK

The Brigantine School District has already sought to sever its relationship with Atlantic City High School, and now Ventnor is weighing its options.

The Ventnor School District is in a "wait-and-see pattern" when it comes to Brigantine's bid to send its students to Cedar Creek High School in Egg Harbor City, Ventnor Superintendent Carmine Bonanni said. A successful effort by Brigantine could lead the way for Ventnor, one of three other Atlantic City High School sending districts, to make a change.

"We don't know if it's going to fly," said Bonanni, "but if it does, it would have statewide implications."

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The success rate when it comes to ending a sending/receiving relationship in New Jersey "is about 50/50," said Michael Yaple, of the New Jersey School Boards Association. "So it's not the easiest thing to do. It's not necessarily a given."

Brigantine has already completed the first step in the process: funding a feasability study.

State law says the commissioner must consider "the educational and financial implications for the sending and receiving districts, the impact on the quality of education received by pupils in each of the districts and the effect on the racial composition of the pupil population of each of the districts."

That last requirement, designed to prevent racial disparities among area schools, has been the sticking point in several attempts to sever sending relationships, including Absecon's unsuccessful attempt to leave Pleasantville High School in 1988.

If Brigantine did leave Atlantic City High School, the white population of ACHS would drop from 19 percent to 15 percent, Brigantine's feasibility study shows.

Ventnor, however, has a student population that is more than 50 percent minority. "So for Ventnor to pull out wouldn't make a difference," said Joan Glick, Ventnor's representative on the Atlantic City Board of Education.

Then there is the matter of where Ventnor high school students would go. Bonanni said Ocean City High School and Mainland Regional High School in Linwood are the closest, while Egg Harbor Township also could be a possibility.

Bonanni added, however, that Mainland is probably already "at capacity," which would make it difficult to absorb the hundreds of Ventnor students who attend Atlantic City High School - 316 this year, plus another 14 who attend Charter Tech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point.

Mainland Superintendent Tom Baruffi did not want to comment specifically about Ventnor but did say that in theory, adding that many students from anywhere would be problematic.

Asked whether Mainland could add 300 students, Baruffi said, "Right now, under current circumstances related to facility/space issues and staffing issues, the answer is no."

Ocean City Superintendent Kathleen Taylor, meanwhile, said that while there have been no discussions with Ventnor about a sending relationship, "that would be something we would be interested in and would consider if another school district approached us."

Ocean City's enrollment is declining, Taylor said, which is one of the reasons the district applied for the state school choice program, which allows districts approved by the state to accept students from other towns at no cost to parents.

Ocean City High School's per-student tuition is $16,585 for its three sending districts - Upper Township, Corbin City and Sea Isle City - less than Atlantic City's $20,630, but still relatively high. Brigantine would pay the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District $11,957 per student if they were allowed to attend Cedar Creek.

Glick said lowering the tuition was a bigger priority than changing high schools.

"On a financial basis, it seems like a great idea," Glick said of switching districts. "But logistically, I don't think it's a great idea at all."

If Brigantine leaves, however, "I'm not sure what happens to those of us left behind," she said.

For her part, "I actually don't think Brigantine would be allowed to do it. I'm surprised they're as confident as they are. ... But if they pull out, the state can't stop Ventnor or Margate from pulling out. They've got to let us do it."

One major result of Brigantine leaving, she said, would be the loss of the more than $4 million in tuition Brigantine pays the Atlantic City School District each year.

"Atlantic City is going to have to make that up," Glick said, adding that she questions how the complex state tuition formula - which includes more than 800 separate line-items - is calculated.

"If nothing else, maybe we can put pressure on the state to change the funding formula," Glick said. "We're being charged for things that aren't high school-related. Maybe there's somebody in the state who (cares) about that."

If Ventnor does make a change, however, they may find themselves alone. Asked about leaving ACHS, Margate Superintendent Theresa DeFranco said her district, which includes Longport students, has had "not even any kind of discussions about that."

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