In the dispute over what the Atlantic City Aquatic Club should pay to use Atlantic City High School's pool, one thing is not in dispute:

The swim club has been very beneficial for the young people who have been a part of it. Parents praise the program and its coaches both for the athletic benefits their children receive and for the life lessons that come from being a member of a swim team. Aquatic Club members regularly receive college swimming scholarships, and some have gone on to compete in Olympic trials.

Atlantic City residents get a discount to join the club ($200 per year versus about $1,200) and 62 of the club's 152 active swimmer are from the city. Residents say that, as with other recreation programs, the Aquatic Club offers an alternative to the lure of the streets.

That good work is endangered by a new fee structure the Atlantic City Board of Education put in place over the summer, which would raise the club's fee to use the pool from $7,000 to about $85,000 a year. That's a huge increase, and one that the club says the parents of swimmers can't afford.

While all school districts are looking for ways to help shore up their budgets, this staggering price increase could cause the Aquatic Club to fold or go elsewhere, and the district would lose the revenue it now receives from the club.

Besides, public facilities such as swimming pools have value beyond generating fees. They can make a big difference in the communities they serve.

And how does it benefit the school district - or area young people - to have the pool sit empty?

Last week the head of the city Recreation Department suggested what seemed like a sensible compromise: Give the Aquatic Club a discount for each Atlantic City resident who is enrolled. That would bring the rental fee more in line and would encourage the club to seek more city members.

So far, the school board hasn't shown much interest in compromising. After a workshop meeting between the board and the swim club Wednesday, Superintendent Donna Haye defended the new fees, saying "What the Board of Education, what the administration is doing is following the board policy in place."

When people start throwing the P word around, it's never a good sign.

To say that the board is following policy is to say nothing at all. Board members make the policy. They can make any policy they want. And apparently for years it was policy to let the Aquatic Club use the pool at a lower rate.

Now, the city's Health and Human Services Department is offering a solution. The city is drafting an agreement that would make the Atlantic City Aquatic Club an official Recreation Department program, which would mean it would have standing to use the high school pool at a lower fee.

As part of the deal, the club would bring coaches to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Uptown Complex pools to expand the club's program to more young city residents - many of whom don't have transportation to the high school.

That's a great idea. It's important for the Aquatic Club to be able to continue its good work.

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