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EHT reverses child-care transportation changes after parent backlash

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The school district walked back a plan to eliminate courtesy busing to commercial child-care centers after negative reaction from residents.

Superintendent Kimberly Gruccio told a standing-room only audience at Tuesday’s school board meeting that busing would continue to child care centers for the next year with some new requirements.

The new rules are designed to ensure students were actually attending a commercial facility and not using the address to send their student to their school of choice, Gruccio said.

“I’m going to take a step back right now, and I’m going to embrace the situation,” she said. “I need for all of you to know that this is a work in progress.”

Parents and child-care center operators from throughout the district packed the board room at the Alder Avenue Middle School to express concerns about the policy that was announced in a letter sent to parents on Thursday, April 18, just before the district let out for spring break.

The letter said only full-time students who attend residential child-care providers for both pick-up and drop-off could use the so-called “babysitter forms.”

The forms previously allowed a resident to change the pick-up or drop-off location for students who attend any before- or after-school child care.

“There will no longer be transportation change busing as a courtesy for commercial child-care centers for students in grades first through 12th,” the letter said.

The letter also stated that the district was rebranding and restructuring its own after-school program called Kids Klub to center around homework help and other enrichment.

Since receiving the letter, many parents expressed concern and confusion through emails to The Press and on social media over how the changes may affect their child. Some parents were also concerned the changes were an attempt by the district to push students into Kids Klub.

Gruccio explained the district’s reasoning behind the policy change at the meeting, stating that the district’s transportation department became inundated with transportation changes.

“Because the district began receiving so many babysitting forms, over 500 in the past year, the transportation became extremely cumbersome,” Gruccio said.

In addition, she said that the district became aware that some parents were using the address of the child-care facility, but not attending it as a way to change which school in the district their student attended. Egg Harbor Township has three elementary and two middle schools.

Parent Stephanie Pedrick, who has a child bused to a commercial center after school, said she came Tuesday to speak out against the transportation changes and appreciated Gruccio’s decision, but said the board was out of touch with working parents.

“That clearly demonstrates that you are uninformed and unprepared for the impact that would have on the families in the district,” Pedrick said. “Clearly, there is a need for care outside the school hours. The need exists because people work.”

Pedrick said the letter outlining the policy changes didn’t include information on how eliminating transportation to child-care centers made bus routes more efficient.

“Over 100 students get on board from Trinity (Learning Center on Mill Road) alone,” she said.

Rachael Kirchmann, director of English Creek Academy, came prepared to speak on Tuesday but decided against it after hearing the district’s decision. The private preschool and child-care center in the English Creek Shopping Center has about 30 students daily who are bused from the school district, and about 100 kids in total who may have been affected because of siblings in the program.

On Wednesday, Kirchmann said she was grateful for the district’s change of heart.

“Some of my kids from the after-school program literally wrote me notes to read to them because they want to stay here so bad,” she said.

Gruccio said she was happy to see so many residents out for Tuesday’s meeting, but said they would have known about the changes if they had attended meetings over the last few months when the proposed change was discussed.

New rules for the babysitter form will require the parents to provide quarterly proof of payment to the child-care facility to continue to be dropped off or picked up there.

Gruccio said there will be a meeting 7 p.m. May 22 at the Alder Avenue school for all stakeholders interested in helping to develop transportation policies for the district and invited the public.

Holocaust Remembrance events held amid rising anti-Semitic violence and incidents

VENTNOR — Solemnity usually hangs in the air during a Yom HaShoah Memorial Service, a Holocaust Remembrance event, but the speaker’s words Tuesday night carried extra poignancy after a series of recent shootings.

The ceremony at Shirat Hayam Synagogue was held in the wake of 11 people killed in October at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and one person killed Saturday at a San Diego synagogue.

Last year, 200 anti-Semitic incidents were documented across New Jersey, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League.

“Anti-Semitism is on the rise,” said Laura Oberlender, the Yom HaShoah guest speaker, who lives part time in Atlantic City. “It’s important for all of us to fight hatred when we are exposed to it.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League report, incidents that happened last year in this state included:

A Jewish couple being told they “should have been stuck in the oven of a Nazi concentration camp” by a building manager in February in Cumberland County.

A student at Stockton University discovered a swastika carved into the front door of his off-campus residence in November.

“While we are moderately encouraged to see a slight dip in anti-Jewish activity across New Jersey last year, we remain deeply concerned at the high levels of anti-Semitism in the Garden State,” said Nancy K. Baron-Baer, regional director of ADL’s Philadelphia Region, which serves southern New Jersey.

“We cannot allow these elevated numbers to become the new normal in New Jersey. Now is not the time to let up — we need our elected officials, law enforcement officers, faith leaders and community members to continue pushing back against anti-Semitism,” Baron-Baer said.

Dr. Michael Emmett, brother of Holocaust survivor Laura Oberlender, spoke during the service. The shooting in San Diego is a personal Holocaust for Gilbert-Kaye’s family, Emmett said.

The Talmud, the primary source of Jewish theology and religious law says the saving of one life is like the saving of the entire universe, and the killing of one life is like killing the entire universe, Emmett said.

This racism, hatred and anti-Semitic violence is being carried out by perpetrators who can’t tolerate those who are different from them, don’t think like them, or who don’t look like them, Emmett said.

“It’s imperative that all of us stand up and fight as much as you can to prevent those people from getting the upper hand,” Emmett said.

Rabbi Aaron Krauss, who gave the memorial service’s benediction, tried to give people a hopeful feeling before they walked out the door by showing how much the world has changed since the Holocaust.

The establishment of Israel changed the image of Jewish people 180 degrees, and the history of the Holocaust and those who died showed that the unimaginable was possible, Rabbi Krauss said.

The reaction of the world to the murder of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh and a wonderful Jewish woman in California and other acts of anti-Semitism reported in Europe and this country has been far, far greater than that for the death of their 6 million Jewish brothers and sister, Rabbi Krauss said.

“Let us hope and pray that when we reassemble next year that the world for people will be safer,” Rabbi Krauss said.

GALLERY: Holocaust remembrance service at Shirat Hayam in Ventnor

Stockton, A.C. Board of Education swap Carnegie Center for boathouse

ATLANTIC CITY — Stockton University will have a new home for its growing rowing program at the Atlantic City Boathouse in a property exchange for the Carnegie Center with the local board of education.

The Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a resolution at its meeting Wednesday to enter into negotiations for property transfer.

“This is a mutually beneficial arrangement that will benefit Stockton’s rapidly growing rowing program and enhance Stockton’s presence in Atlantic City’s University District,” Stockton President Harvey Kesselman said.

Under the agreement, Atlantic City Board of Education would become new owners of the historic Carnegie Center, but would continue to have use of the boathouse for its crew teams.

Back to campus: Stockton through the years

The school district plans to create a regional center for professional development at the Carnegie Center, said Atlantic City Superintendent Barry Caldwell.

“The agreement between Stockton and Atlantic City Board of Education is a great agreement because we’re going to swap ownership of both buildings, but our crew team will have full use. We will not disrupt our crew program,” Caldwell said.

He said that the latest agreement is a continuation of the partnership between the school district and the college that creates a pipeline from Atlantic City High School to Stockton University.

Stockton University spokeswoman Diane D’Amico said that the college began operating the Carnegie Center in 2004 and took ownership of the century-old building in 2009. It served as the city’s library from the turn of the 20th century until the 1980s.

Currently, the Carnegie Center on Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard hosts undergraduate and graduate courses, continuing professional education programming, and special events for Stockton and outside organizations. Stockton’s graduate social work program had already moved this year to the new Atlantic City campus.

D’Amico said the college has enough space for its programming at the new Atlantic City campus building along Albany Avenue, so it no longer had a use for the Carnegie building.

She said the Work First program will also be moved and an agreement with Thomas Jefferson University’s Physician Assistant program expires in June. They plan to relocate.

The boathouse on Fairmount Avenue is used by Atlantic City’s crew program, and the school also rents out the space for special events. Stockton’s rowing teams have been using the boathouse as part of an agreement with the school district, and the college has undertaken efforts grow its program. In December, Stockton hired Atlantic City native and nationally recognized crew coach John Bancheri.

In April, the women’s team scored its highest point total at 58 and best finish ever at third at the Mid-Atlantic Rowing Conference Championships.

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Stockton has agreed to transfer ownership of the Carnegie Center with the Atlantic City Board of Education in exchange for the A.C. Boathouse. {standaloneHead}SMALL BUSINESS WORKSHOP{/standaloneHead}

West Wildwood hires mayor's daughter as cop in department's latest controversy

WEST WILDWOOD — The borough commission voted Wednesday to hire Mayor Christopher Fox’s 22-year-old daughter Nicole Fox as a full-time police officer, in a surprise resolution that was not on the agenda.

There were sharp intakes of breath and audible groans from the audience when the vote happened. Fox abstained, but the other two commissioners — Scott W. Golden and Cornelius Maxwell — voted in favor.

The move angered many present, as Fox lives with Police Chief Jacquelyn “Jackie” Ferentz, who would then be Nicole Fox’s boss.

“Nicole Fox is being hired as a police officer in the borough after all we have been through?” asked Kate Samson. “We have been sued by your brother, your girlfriend and now you are hiring a third family member?”

West Wildwood taxpayers are paying Ferentz $5,000 a month for about 200 months and her attorney about $18,000 a month for 42 months as a result of a $1.7 million jury award.

She had filed a whistleblower suit against the borough and its former mayor, Herbert Frederick, over his alleged interference in the Police Department. But Frederick was eventually dropped from the suit.

“Would you rather skip someone qualified, someone who has been here all her life and pays taxes?” asked Fox.

“Yes!” called out many in the audience.

Golden, who is the commissioner in charge of public safety, said Nicole Fox was the only applicant for the position, other than a Class 2 officer already working there who was also hired.

He said Ferentz advertised the position on a web site called

Some homeowners questioned why Ferentz is on the Cape May Prosecutor’s Office Brady letter list, and whether that prevents her from doing her job as chief.

Police officers with Brady letters are considered to have lied or misrepresented facts in the past, and that fact must be disclosed to the defense attorney of anyone charged with a crime by that officer, according to borough attorney William Blaney.

Blaney said he considered the letter a “pre-Brady letter,” but the prosecutor’s office has refused to remove Ferentz from the list, he said.

So commissioners also voted to hire an attorney to look into the appropriateness of Ferentz being on the list, and perhaps challenge it. That also angered taxpayers, who said she should challenge it at her own expense, not cost the borough even more money.

The borough’s insurance company would not pay the $1.7 million court award announced last year to Ferentz, saying the borough had not adequately defended itself.

Ferentz has said her relationship with Fox was not a romantic one, but Fox did not correct homeowners who called her his girlfriend at Wednesday’s meeting.

After Ferentz won her case, she also got her job back with a settlement for back pay.

Homeowner Helen Rao said it was a conflict that the mayor lives with the police chief, and now his daughter will be supervised by the person who functions as a step mother to her.

The room broke out in applause.

“I’m charging you three ... with conspiracy,” said Charles Chepak to the commissioners. “

He said they had rejected at a recent meeting the suggestion that the town pass an ordinance concerning nepotism.

“You knew you were about to hire your daughter when you turned down the ordinance,” he said.

Fox said after the meeting that he enjoys the support of most taxpayers in the borough, and only people who come to the meetings are opposed to him.

He predicted he will win re-election in 2020.