School

Emma C. Attales School in Absecon

ABSECON — Citing concerns about the quality and quantity of educational opportunities offered at Pleasantville High School, the Board of Education in Absecon voted Monday to begin the process of ending its sending and receiving relationship with the neighboring town.

“This vote follows a long and careful process undertaken by our board. We are committed fully to seeing it through because we believe it to be in the best interests of our taxpayers and students,” Absecon school board President Thomas Grites wrote in a statement released after the meeting.

Monday’s action is just one step in a process that began years ago with discussions in Absecon and picked up speed last year when the district authorized a feasibility study to determine whether the move was possible.

If approved by the state Department of Education, Absecon students would attend Absegami High School in Galloway Township.

Pleasantville interim Superintendent Dennis Anderson did not respond to a request for comment.

It could take one to two years for the commissioner of education to make a decision on the matter, and even then the decision could face appeals.

Absecon students currently attend high school in Pleasantville through a decadeslong sending and receiving relationship. Under the agreement, Absecon pays a tuition of $18,000 per student, but not many students choose to attend.

Instead, they opt for the Atlantic County Institute of Technology or schools that participate in the School Choice program, like Mainland Regional High School. In addition, some students attend private high schools, such as Holy Spirit in Absecon.

State enrollment data show that, on average, less than 10% of eighth-grade students from Absecon attend Pleasantville High School. In 2017-18, 37 students in grades 9 through 12 from Absecon attended Pleasantville.

New Jersey Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple said the department is aware and has been communicating with the superintendents from Absecon and Pleasantville on the matter. He said the state has not received the feasibility study.

Absecon will need to satisfy three requirements to receive approval from the commissioner of education: that the severance would not adversely affect education programming, the financial stability of the districts or the racial composition of the districts, Yaple said.

Absecon’s feasibility study, presented in May, stated that consultants reached out to Pleasantville’s superintendent but received no response.

Pleasantville’s previous superintendent, Clarence Alston, left the district at the end of June after it was assigned a second state monitor due to financial issues and turmoil on the school board.

A special counsel, Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, will now petition the DOE to move forward with the severance and create a new agreement with the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District.

Absecon Superintendent Dan Dooley said Absegami offers more academic and extracurricular programs for students, citing 180 courses at various levels, 40 clubs and activities, more than 20 AP courses, an Early College program — also available at Pleasantville — more than 20 sports programs and Magnet programs.

The Greater Egg Harbor school board also voted on accepting Absecon students Monday night.

Greater Egg Superintendent John Keenan said that, like many schools in South Jersey, the three-high school district has been experiencing declining enrollment, so space is not an issue.

“Absegami is an outstanding high school, and we have the physical room to accommodate more students. We welcome Absecon as a partner and we’re excited if their petition is successful for them to join our regional district,” Keenan said Tuesday morning.

Greater Egg Harbor serves high school students in Mullica Township, Egg Harbor City, Galloway Township and Hamilton Township and accepts students from Port Republic and Washington Township, Burlington County, through tuition agreements.

According to Absecon’s feasibility study, Absecon and its new sending district would both benefit financially from the switch because of lower tuition costs per student. Pleasantville could experience a small tax increase due to the loss of tuition. The study also examined differences in academic achievement between the schools, citing graduation rates and SAT and state standardized test scores that were higher at Absegami and Mainland than at Pleasantville. It also found there would be no substantial impact on the racial makeup of the student populations.

The feasibility study suggests a phase-in approach, with current Pleasantville High School students from Absecon allowed to stay at Pleasantville through graduation but all new high school students attending Absegami.

The study acknowledges the possibility that more Absecon students will attend Greater Egg Harbor than now in Pleasantville.

“If the numbers increase, the receiving district and associated districts will see larger tax-levy reductions, Pleasantville’s change will stay the same and Absecon’s tax levy will increase,” the study states.

Absecon is not the first South Jersey district to sever its sending agreement in favor of a different school district. In 2014, Longport, a nonoperating district with about a dozen high school students, was allowed to end its relationship with Atlantic City High School and instead send students to Ocean City.

The decision took two years and reversed a previous decision that found Longport leaving Atlantic City would have an impact on the racial makeup of the school. A final agreement in 2015 allowed Longport students to make a choice between Atlantic City or Ocean City.

View Absecon’s feasibility study and video from the May presentation here.

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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