Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe has ruled that the Longport Board of Education can end its sending relationship with Atlantic City High School and instead send its high school students to Ocean City.
Longport students could begin attending Ocean City High School in September.
Longport school board President Carl Tripician said Wednesday that details with Ocean City must still be worked out, but the Ocean City school board had already agreed to accept Longport students.
Ocean City Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said they just received the decision Wednesday and were still reviewing it, but they will meet with Longport officials soon.
The Atlantic City school board can appeal the decision to the Superior Court, Appellate Division. Superintendent Donna Haye said the school board will discuss the decision and its options at its next board meeting on June 17.
Tripician said they will also set up a meeting with parents soon to explain the decision and its impact. Still to be determined is if the students already in Atlantic City High School will stay there, or be able to move to Ocean City.
“This still all needs to be discussed,” he said. “But the pattern in this type of situation has been that students already in a school will be able to stay there if they choose to.”
The ruling could also free up a couple more “choice” seats in Ocean City, which is a public school choice district, since Longport students who had been attending as choice students would become sending/receiving students.
The commissioner’s decision reverses the initial decision of Administrative Law Judge Bruce Gorman, who said the removal of the white students from Longport would increase the racial imbalance in Atlantic City. In his decision he said that if a school is already racially imbalanced, the departure of even one Caucasian student necessarily constitutes a substantial negative impact on racial composition.
But the commissioner ruled that racial imbalance alone was not a determining factor in the case because the nine white students from Longport represent just two percent of the Caucasian population at the school, which currently has a Caucasian population of 22 percent. The decision notes that Atlantic City has a racially diverse composition and will continue to be diverse in almost the same proportion after the severance.
Both the commissioner and the judge agreed that the severance would have no substantial negative impact on the educational and financial condition of the districts, which are the other two factors that must be considered to end a sending/receiving relationship.
The commisioner’s decision says that without a showing of substantial financial, educational or racial negative impact, the commissioner is required by law to grant the severance. As part of the decision, Longport must enter into a new sending/receiving relationship with Ocean City for a minimum of five years.
Haye said they are very disappointed that the commissioner did not adopt Gorman’s initial decision.
Longport operates no schools. Students in grades K-8 attend school in Margate and that relationship will continue.
Longport filed its severance petition in June 2012, and hearings were held in 2013. The district had asked for either a complete severance from Atlantic City, or the option of dual sending/receiving relationships with both districts.
In a hearing on the issue Tripician said the board is seeking the best possible educational opportunities for its students. Tripician also said tuition at Atlantic City High School was up to approximately $24,000, and that Ocean City is much closer for Longport students.
Tripician testified that they favored a dual relationship with both Atlantic City High School and Ocean City High School because it would afford the students an opportunity to choose.
Atlantic City Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Sherry Yahn testified at the hearing that all nine students from Longport take Advanced Placement classes, and if they leave, it could reduce the number of AP offerings at the high school.
Tripician said there could initially be an increase in the Longport school budget if students who currently attend or planned to attend private or parochial schools decide to instead go to Ocean City High School.
According to the decision, in 2013 there were 24 high schools students from Longport, with nine at Atlantic City High School, three at Ocean City High School as choice students, and the rest at charter, private or parochial schools, including Holy Spirit and St. Augustine Preparatory School.
But Tripician said, the number of school-age students in Longport has been declining, with 10 students currently in eighth grade, three in seventh grade and five in sixth grade, so the tuition costs will adjust with the enrollment.
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