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Egg Harbor Township school district takes next step toward full-day Kindergarten

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — When township Board of Education members are presented with a budget for next year, the proposal will include funding to implement full-day kindergarten, Superintendent Kim Gruccio said.

If the funding comes to fruition, the township will join the nearly 500 districts statewide that offer full-day programs, which experts say improve student outcomes and increase attendance.

“The research is pretty clear that kids learn more in a full day than a half day,” said Steven Barnett, senior co-director for the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

EHT to join discussion on ACIT expansion

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — School officials will take a closer look at the expansion of the county vocational school after receiving a letter on the issue from the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District last month.

Statewide, about 480 districts offer full-day kindergarten. Locally, only Egg Harbor Township and Linwood offer half-day-only programs, and both have said they are considering full-day programs. Three bills in the Legislature are also being considered to study or implement full-day kindergarten throughout the state.

Barnett said the move from half-day programs to full-day kindergarten has been slow and steady since the implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind law in 2002.

“I think it’s also driven by the increase in two-parent working families,” he said. “It’s not just about providing childcare. It’s what would the child be doing if they weren’t in kindergarten?”

Johari Sykes-Ratliff, lecturer and coordinator for the early childhood program at Rowan University, said single-parent and dual-working-parent families benefit from a full-day program, but it’s more than just glorified daycare.

Will New Jersey mandate full-day kindergarten?

For years, studies have shown that full-day kindergarten programs increase academic readiness for students entering first grade, can improve attendance and allow teachers to better identify and respond to a student’s educational needs.

“After-school care does not provide you with the same curriculum,” she said. “When you extend the school day, you’re extending the amount of time the children are exposed to academics, rigor, high expectations for learning. Teachers must align their curriculum to the state learning standards. That can’t be ensured at an after school program.”

Barnett said that in districts that don’t offer full-day kindergarten, especially in states where kindergarten is not mandatory — like New Jersey, where the law stipulates only that a child must enter school at age 6, or first grade — parents are more likely to not send their child to a school program.

“So much of our attention these days are starting kids at 3 and 4 because many kids can be a year or more behind when they start kindergarten,” Barnett said. “If they didn’t start until they are 6, they’d be even further behind. It doesn’t mean they can’t catch up, but it’s extensive.”

Barnett said school districts that implement a full-day program often see enrollment in kindergarten increase.

Gruccio said that based on feedback from a townshipwide survey, the district is expecting about 500 students to enroll in full-day programs, which would necessitate 25 classrooms with about 20 students per class. The latest enrollment figures from 2018-19 show 347 kindergarten students enrolled in the district.

Gruccio said the district has the space to house the program but would need to add 15 additional classroom teachers, four special-subject teachers, four child study team members, one occupational therapist, one speech therapist and six bus drivers.

Total cost to the district, including classroom supplies and resources, would be $2.8 million.

“We studied our facilities, we did walk-throughs, we looked at classrooms,” Gruccio told the school board recently. “We want to put this into play, we know we want it, we calculated how much it would cost. We need to know now how many people are interested.”

Gruccio said the next step would be registration from December through January, then presenting the budget in the spring.

“This is contingent upon us getting the state aid that we have received and hopefully more state aid if the plan stays in place,” Gruccio said.

The district is receiving additional aid through the 2018 school funding reform law. The state provided an additional $2 million in 2018, and $4.2 million last year, but still left the district $28.3 million below full annual funding, according to the formula.

While the school funding reform law lays out a plan to increase aid to underfunded districts like Egg Harbor Township over seven years, districts won’t know until the governor’s budget message in the spring how much money they will receive.

Gruccio said the district could receive even more money if it implements full-day kindergarten because it will finally be eligible for preschool education expansion aid from the state, which it couldn’t qualify for with a half-day program. She said the district has been communicating with the state about the grant.

Barnett said schools that implement full-day kindergarten need to be mindful of long-term planning of the curriculum into the later elementary school grades.

“Once we do this in kindergarten, what will we do to ensure that when they get to first grade we’re taking full advantage of the fact that we fully prepared our kindergartners? And that’s where you get the long-term gains,” Barnett said.

GALLERY: Egg Harbor Township vs Toms River North Boys Soccer Championship

GALLERY: Egg Harbor Township vs Toms River North Boys Soccer Championship

Former security official undercuts Trump impeachment defense

WASHINGTON — A former national security official declared Thursday that a U.S. ambassador carried out a controversial “domestic political errand” for Donald Trump on Ukraine, an allegation undercutting a main line of the president’s defense in the impeachment inquiry.

Fiona Hill told House investigators she came to realize Ambassador Gordon Sondland wasn’t simply operating outside official diplomatic channels, as she and others suspected, but carrying out instructions from Trump.

“He was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy,” she testified, “and those two things had just diverged.”

Hill’s comment followed a blistering back-and-forth during questioning from Republicans at the House hearing.

Testimony from Hill and David Holmes, a State Department adviser in Kyiv, capped an intense week in the historic inquiry and reinforced the central complaint: that Trump used foreign policy for political aims, setting off alarms across the U.S. national security and foreign policy apparatus.

Democrats allege Trump was relying on the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election as he sought investigations in return for two things: U.S. military aid that Ukraine needed to fend off Russian aggression, and a White House visit the new Ukrainian president wanted that would demonstrate his backing from the West.

One by one, Hill, a Russia expert at the White House’s National Security Council until this summer, took on Trump’s defenses.

She and Holmes both told House investigators it was abundantly clear Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was pursuing political investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden in Ukraine.

“He was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would, you know, probably come back to haunt us and in fact,” Hill testified. “I think that’s where we are today.”

And Hill stood up for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Army officer who testified earlier and whom Trump’s allies tried to discredit.” He remains at the White House National Security Council.

At one point, Republicans interjected, trying to cut off Hill’s response as she flipped the script during the afternoon of questioning. The GOP lawmakers had been trying to highlight her differences with Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who delivered damaging testimony Wednesday about what he said was Trump’s “quid pro quo” pursuit of the political investigations.

The Republican lawmakers eventually wound down their questions but continued with mini-speeches decrying the impeachment effort. Democrats, in turn, criticized Trump’s actions.

Hill, a former aide to then-national security adviser John Bolton, sternly warned Republican lawmakers — and implicitly Trump — to quit pushing a “fictional” narrative that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in U.S. elections.

Trump has told others testifying in the inquiry that Ukraine tried to “take me down” in the 2016 election. Republicans launched their questioning Thursday reviving those theories.

Hill declared: “I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016.”

Her testimony also raised fresh questions whether Bolton, who has yet to defy White House orders for officials not to testify, would appear in the inquiry. In what was seen as a nudge to her former boss, Hill said those with information have a “moral obligation to provide it.”

The landmark House impeachment inquiry was sparked by a July 25 phone call, in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for investigations into Biden and the Democratic National Committee. A still-anonymous whistleblower’s official government complaint about that call led the House to launch the current probe.

Hill and Holmes both filled in gaps in previous testimony and poked holes in the accounts of other witnesses. They were particularly adamant that efforts by Trump and Giuliani to investigate the Burisma company were well-known by officials working on Ukraine to be the equivalent of probing the Bidens. That runs counter to earlier testimony from Sondland and Kurt Volker, the former Ukraine special envoy, who insisted they had no idea there was a connection.

Holmes, a late addition to the schedule, also undercut some of Sondland’s recollections about an extraordinary phone call between the ambassador and Trump on July 26, the day after the president’s call with Ukraine. Holmes was having lunch with Sondland in Kyiv and said he could overhear Trump ask about “investigations” during a “colorful” conversation.

After the phone call, Holmes said Sondland told him Trump cared about “big stuff,” including the investigation into the “Biden investigation.” Sondland said he didn’t recall raising the Bidens.

During Thursday’s testimony, the president tweeted that while his own hearing is “great” he’s never been able to understand another person’s conversation that wasn’t on speaker. “Try it,” he suggested.

Holmes also testified about his growing concern as Giuliani orchestrated Ukraine policy outside official diplomatic channels. It was a concern shared by others, he testified.

“My recollection is that Ambassador Sondland stated, “Every time Rudy gets involved he goes and f---s everything up.”

Holmes testified that he grew alarmed throughout the year, watching as Giuliani was “making frequent public statements pushing for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 election and issues related to Burisma and the Bidens.”

Hill left the White House before the July phone call that sparked the impeachment probe, though she was part of other key meetings and conversations related to Ukraine policy. She opened her testimony with an impassioned plea for Republicans to stop peddling an alternative theory of 2016 election interference and helping Russia sow divisions in the United States.

“This is exactly what the Russian government was hoping for,” she said about the currently American political climate. “They would pit one side of our electorate against the others.”

She warned that Russia is gearing up to intervene again in the 2020 U.S. election. “We are running out of time to stop them,” she testified.

Trump — as well as Republicans on the panel, including ranking GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California — continue to advance the idea that Russian interference was a “hoax,” and that it was Ukraine that was trying to swing the election, to stop Trump’s presidency.

“That is the Democrats’ pitiful legacy,” Nunes said in his opening remarks. He called it all part of the same effort, from “the Russia hoax” to the “shoddy sequel” of the impeachment inquiry.

Hill, who became a U.S. citizen in 2002, told lawmakers she was the daughter of a coal miner in the northeast of England, noting it is the same region George Washington’s ancestors came from.

Hill said Bolton told her separately he didn’t want to be involved in any “drug deal” Sondland and Trump’s acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were cooking up over the Ukrainian investigations Trump wanted.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was pleased that the “political battles” in Washington had overtaken the Russia allegations, which are supported by the U.S. intelligence agencies.

“Thank God,” Putin said, “no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore. Now they’re accusing Ukraine.”


Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Laurie Kellman, Zeke Miller, Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

Atlantic City unlikely to see tax, fees return to city any time soon

ATLANTIC CITY — The mayor’s crusade to recoup tax and fee revenue generated in the city was not well received by two of the top state decision makers who could actually make it happen.

Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, did not take to Mayor Marty Small Sr.’s recent advocacy that some, or all, of certain tax revenues and fees that originate in Atlantic City be returned to the resort.

Small, both since becoming mayor in October and previously as council president, has repeatedly said additional revenue streams are needed for the city to function properly as its ratable base continues to shrink and property taxes rise.

Revenue, economic variety critical to Atlantic City self-rule

TRENTON — Diversification of Atlantic City’s economy and the stabilization of its ratable base are keys to the city returning to local sovereignty, but so are increasing revenue streams, particularly from revenue generated by the resort’s primary economic driver.

“You can’t talk about raising taxes or finding new sources of revenue until you really do have your house in order,” Sweeney said Thursday after the New Jersey State League of Municipalities’ annual luncheon at the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel. “This city still has a long way to go.”

The governor was less dismissive of the idea, but he was no more willing to concede it was viable while Atlantic City was still in the midst of a state takeover.

“We sit and listen to the elected officials in this community, and we try to find a way forward together,” Murphy said after giving the keynote address at the event. “So we’ll see on that one. To be determined.”

In 2018, more than $66.9 million was generated in Atlantic City from the luxury tax, additional sports betting tax, parking fees and hotel room fees, according to data from the state Department of the Treasury and Division of Gaming Enforcement. When the state occupancy fee, tourism promotion fee and sales tax are included, the number balloons to more than $155 million.

Atlantic City just wants its fair share, Small said, adding that if what was happening here was taking place in municipalities that key lawmakers represent, “they’d be kicking and screaming, too.”

“We’re not asking for anything that no one else gets,” he said. “That’s going to be the fight. I represent the taxpayers. My No. 1 priority, and it always will be, is to stand and fight for them.”

Small has attempted to go after the most recently enacted, and smallest, portion of that combined total, which is the additional 1.25% sports betting tax passed last year. The tax generated $627,000 in 2018 and through the first six months of this year has accounted for $514,000.

What will Jim Johnson's Atlantic City legacy be?

ATLANTIC CITY — At a news conference in April, where city and state leaders introduced a timetable for actions that would affect the resort’s future, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver referred to the man seated to her left as “a knight on a white horse.”

The mayor said he wants to use that money exclusively for property tax relief in Atlantic City.

In order for the city to receive any of that money, an act of the state Legislature would be required.

“(Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex,) was not aware that the concept was being discussed,” said Kevin McArdle, director of communications for the Majority Office of the state Assembly. “Should the proposal come in the form of legislation, the Speaker and Assembly leadership will review it thoroughly and thoughtfully as in the case with all bills.”

Atlantic City and Small have an ally in Trenton whose years of service in the Legislature could prove advantageous should the issue ever make it that far. Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also serves as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency with direct oversight of Atlantic City, recently testified before an Assembly committee that the time may soon come where legislators have to consider how money flows back into the city and through the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which receives significant portions of the fees and taxes.

“We will be having future discussions about do we need to reexamine what the statutes are that describe how that money flows to CRDA,” Oliver told members of the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee last week. “There are strong opinions that some of the parking and luxury tax revenue should, in fact, consider the City of Atlantic City.”

Photos from the NJ League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City

Pleasantville man charged in deadly shooting to stay in jail until trial

MAYS LANDING — A Pleasantville man charged in a shooting at a high school football game that left a 10-year-old boy dead will stay in jail until trial.

Vance Golden, 26, was remanded to the Atlantic County jail Thursday morning after a less than 15-minute detention hearing before county Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr.

Golden, wearing a black-and-white striped jumpsuit atop a long-sleeved, orange crewneck and watched over by four sheriff’s officers, said only “Yes, sir” when asked whether he understood his rights.

“His callousness for the safety of hundreds of people — men, women and children — during his participation in the immediate aftermath of a shooting at a high school football game bespeaks an utter disregard for the lives of others,” DeLury said in giving his decision.

Golden and three Atlantic City men — Shahid Dixon 27, Michael Mack, 27, and Tyrell Dorn, 28 — were charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and certain persons not to possess a weapon in the Friday night shooting during the third quarter of the Pleasantville-Camden Central Jersey Group II semifinal.

Prosecutors allege the men left the football game, throwing a gun out of a car window while leading police on a chase to Atlantic City, where they were arrested.

“Speaking to the safety of the public, I think it’s fairly obvious that when someone brings a gun to a public forum, not just any public forum, but a high school football game with the types of people and the crowds there, there is a wanton disregard for public safety inherent in that action,” Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy said. “And then the fact of eluding police while in the vehicle, again, it goes to a complete disregard for public safety.”

Eagles try to ease Pleasantville's heartache

PHILADELPHIA — Pleasantville High School running back/linebacker Ernest Howard fought back tears Wednesday that had nothing to do with the Greyhounds’ 22-0 loss to Camden at Lincoln Financial Field.

Levy also cited previous juvenile offenses, including a robbery conviction for which Golden served six years in prison, as other reasons for him to remain in jail pretrial.

Jake Bayak, Golden’s attorney, unsuccessfully argued for his release on a GPS bracelet, saying he has a construction job and would make his court dates. He said Golden never said he had or used the gun police found had been thrown from the car, and also noted that Dorn admitted to police that he threw the gun out of the car, even if he didn’t claim it as his.

“So, while it’s always important to pick who you choose to hang around with, I think Mr. Golden here is kind of quite literally along for the ride on this one,” Bayak said. “I think once the dust settles on this one, his culpability may be much less than other ones here given the statements we have at this point.”

Officials called the incident a targeted attack in which Alvin Wyatt shot Ibn Abdullah on the home side bleachers. Affidavits in the case show Dixon used the video chat app Facetime to tell Wyatt that Abdullah was at the game and where he was sitting.

The shooting left Abdullah, 27, of Atlantic City, with critical injuries and a 15-year-old with a graze wound. Micah Tennant, 10, was shot in the neck and died from his injuries Wednesday.

“We intend to prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law,” Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said outside the courtroom. “We will pursue every avenue to ensure that those responsible for the death of Micah, as well as the injury to others, will, in fact, be prosecuted.”

According to Press archives, four of the men charged for their roles in Friday’s shooting have prior criminal records, as adults or juveniles, involving gun violence and drug offenses.

In 2014, Mack and Wyatt were charged with aggravated assault for a series of shootings that occurred in the Carver Hall Apartments.

Abdullah was one of the men associated with the “Dirty Blok” gang arrested in 2013.

While Dixon, Mack, Dorn and Golden were all scheduled to appear for detention hearings Thursday morning, the hearings for both Mack and Dorn were postponed until Wednesday as evidence in the case is exchanged.

During a brief appearance, Mike Schreiber, Dorn’s attorney, said Dorn was not directly involved in the shooting but was allegedly in a car that was stopped after the shooting that was associated with a gun.

Complete Coverage of the Camden vs. Pleasantville game

Complete coverage of the resumption of the Pleasantville vs. Camden Central Jersey Group II semifinal. The game resumed in the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia after it was interrupted Friday night by shooting that injured two people and killed 10-year-old Micah Tennant. Camden beat Pleasantville 22-0 in the game. 

Dorn wanted to tell the judge that he “was not involved in the shooting of the 10-year-old boy,” Schreiber said. “He is mortified that he is being associated with that.”

Dixon, who was also charged with eluding, will remain in jail without a hearing, as the new charges are a violation of his participation in Recovery Court, Tyner said.

Wyatt, 31, of Atlantic City, who was arrested near the field shortly after the shooting, has been charged with murder, two counts of attempted murder, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

Wyatt was first charged with three counts of attempted murder, but the charge was upgraded after Micah died. His detention hearing, originally scheduled for Thursday, has also been postponed until Wednesday.

Abdullah was charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a handgun and certain persons not permitted to possess a handgun after police found a 9mm gun in his waistband, the affidavit states. He is still hospitalized, and a date for his detention hearing has not been set, Tyner said.

PHOTOS from Pleasantville vs. Camden at Philadelphia Eagles stadium