Atlantic City Aquatic Club cannot afford to continue operating if the Atlantic City Board of Education’s dramatically higher building and custodial fees stand, club President Joe Haney says.

At Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, the board approved the new rate for the month of September only. If the rate does stand for the year, the cost the club pays the school district will go from about $6,500 per year to about $85,000 per year, Haney said.

Dozens of members of the Aquatic Club were on hand for the public session of the meeting. Due to an impending storm, however, only four members were permitted to speak.

“We are going to ask the Aquatic Club member’s to return next month and to voice their opinion and speak further,” board President Patricia Bailey said.

The Aquatic Club paid the school district more than $5,500 to use the pool at Atlantic City High School from Sept. 10 through the end of the month. Haney said they have enough money to last one additional month. If they can’t negotiate a new rate, he said, they will have to fold.

During the regular meeting, Assistant Superintendent Barry Caldwell laid out the rates charged by numerous local school districts for the use of pools.

“I don’t think this board is out of line with their pricing,” he said “I understand where this is a struggle for everyone. It’s something that is here in front of us. I think that the Atlantic City School District, with the costs that other pools are charging, I think they are reasonable with what they’re charging.”

During the regular meeting, board member Shay Steele, who voted against this month’s fees along with board member Kirk Dooleycq, asked that the Aquatic Club members who paid for this month be prorated after a new rate is negotiated. Bailey said the board would address that when they negotiate the fees at a later date.

After the meeting, Haney said the board agreed to meet with the club to negotiate the rate. The date of the meeting has not been determined yet.

Haney said the program has been in existence for at least 14 years and is made up of about 120 children from 6 years old through high school. About 60 percent of the children are from Atlantic City. City residents previously paid about $200 a year to be a member. Non-Atlantic City residents pay an average of about $1,000 membership fee to subsidize the cost for Atlantic City residents, Haney said.

The program turns no profit, he said, and, in addition to paying the school district, the money goes toward paying the program’s seven coaches.

During Tuesday’s public session, Enoe Azcona, of Atlantic City spoke about the importance of the club. Her son, Jorge Azcona, lost 60 pounds through the program. He is a junior at Atlantic City High School and he swims on the team.

“He’s not in the street,” Enoe Azcona said. “It keeps him out of trouble on the street. He is not with the kids in jail or the kids doing drugs.”

Azcona, who said she had to take six months off work to beat cancer, said she can’t afford to pay the new rate.

Jorge Azcona said he is concerned for himself, but also for the younger kids in the program.

“We’re surrounded by water around here,” he said. “It’s incredibly important that these kids know how to swim.”

Susan Chew pays the out-of town-rate and drives her 15-year-old daughter from Hammonton. She started at 5 years old.

“It’s a great program, it keeps the kids healthy,” Chew said. “It’s a sport. It’s a life-saving skill. They learn how to balance sports and school. Would you rather have them sit on the couch and watch TV?”

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