ATLANTIC CITY - A decade-old city preschool program enrolling about 100 students will be shut down at the end of the school year for budgetary reasons, The Press of Atlantic City has confirmed.

The AtlantiCare Kids Child Care facility, located at Texas and Fairmount avenues, is operated by AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center through a contract between the company and the Atlantic City Board of Education.

Don Parker, president of AtlantiCare's health services, said school officials told him in February that the contract would not be renewed in an effort to eliminate added expenses, such as the leasing of a city facility.

The hospital's Human Resources Department recently sent out letters notifying the preschool's 11 employees, including five teachers, five state-certified teachers' aides and one secretary, that their jobs will be eliminated when the facility closes June 30, according to a letter to one of the program's employees that was viewed by The Press on Tuesday. The company will offer the employees an opportunity to apply for any open in-house positions, the letter said.

The school district's 2010 budget lists no funding for "contracted preschool programs," indicating the board intends not to renew the contract.

Parker said the program's registration for next year has already begun, despite the absence of any notification to local parents that the facility will no longer be open. He said hospital officials are not responsible to inform the parents of their students, adding that he did not know why the district had not informed them yet.

"Their explanation is very reasonable," Parker said. "I wasn't surprised. School systems now, you don't have to go beyond your newspaper to know that schools are going through tough times."

Parker said he did not know where the program's students would be moved. He also said he thinks the district is considering hiring some of the five teachers who are losing their jobs.

New Jersey law requires schools to staff each preschool classroom with one teacher and one teacher's aide and prohibits a preschool class from exceeding 15 students.

Superintendent Fredrick Nickles did not return repeated calls to his cell phone seeking comment, nor did the district's other assistant superintendents. The district's schools and offices are closed this week for spring break.

AtlantiCare, which also operates preschool programs in Pleasantville and Galloway Township, first signed a contract in Atlantic City in 2000, Parker said. But the downsizing of the program started more than a year ago.

According to school budget documents, the program's enrollment numbers dropped from 128 students in 2008 to just 73 in 2009. The district also cut eight employees, all of whom worked out of satellite trailers outside of Venice Park School, from the program in 2009. Parker said two of those teachers moved to the facility at Texas and Fairmount avenues, while the remaining employees either lost their jobs or obtained another job with AtlantiCare.

Parker said the hospital has managed to find an opening for one of the teachers who is currently in the Atlantic City preschool program and hopes to find more openings for those who are interested before the facility closes in June.

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