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Thursday, July 25, 2024

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WCM Directors Cast Unanimous ‘No’ Vote

By Jack Fichter

In addition, Superintendent Victoria Zelenak would spend 20 percent of her hours as a teacher, that in response to state bill 1701 limiting administrative costs. Business Administrator Terri Nowotony would be cut to a four-day workweek.
A clerk typist position in the school office would become a four-day a week position.
A physical education teacher position would also become a four-day a week position. The school’s PACE teacher, for gifted students, would change from full time to part time.
A custodial position would be eliminated.
School enrollment, impacted by a declining number of families with children living in Cape May, has dropped from 221 in Dec. 2003, to 187 in Dec. 2004 to a current population of 146 students.  Of that number, 15 are preschool students, and three are in special education.
The school board requested recommendations from Zelenak to reduce staff to match enrollment, Nowotony told the Herald.
Cape May Elementary’s second, third, and fifth graders are currently split into two classrooms with two teachers but those would be consolidated in the fall into single classrooms for those grades.
One, fourth grade class would be expanded into two classes in the fall with a projected increase from 14 to 25 students.
At a Jan. 12 meeting, which had the atmosphere of a memorial service, Zelenak announced the proposed cuts.
The board will vote on a resolution to make the personnel changes at their next meeting.
The resolution would not give the names of the teachers losing their jobs. Nowotony said seven teachers are non tenured and all of them would receive notice their position could be affected.
Teacher’s contracts are renewed in May, she said. Zelenak would recommend which contracts not to renew and the school board would make the final decision.
 “It’s painful but necessary,” said board member Joseph McKenna.
The audience was filled with teachers and a few parents. A look of concern was apparent on many faces.
During public comment: parent Jennifer Rush said newly hired teachers were “magical choices” and she was “heartsick to see any of them go.” She said children from Coast Guard families represented 60 percent of the school’s enrollment and those children come and go.
Rush said the board should not hire and fire as the student numbers change.
In other business: the board in a 6-1 vote, passed a resolution endorsing the City of Cape May’s plan to ask the county Superintendent of Schools to investigate holding a voter referendum to dissolve Lower Cape May Regional School. (See related stories).
Board member Deborah Smith cast the lone “no” vote. She said while a referendum to dissolve the regional school may be in the best interest of the city’s taxpayers, it may not be in the best interest of Cape May Elementary students.
Smith said the $42,000 cost to send each student to the regional district was an “aggregate amount.”
“There is no mention of the actual rate that is paid by us as residents of the city versus residents of the other municipalities,” she said.
Smith said, in proportion, Lower Township pays five times more taxes than Cape May residents on a property of the same value. As an example, she said the owner of a $600,000 home in Cape May would pay about $1,776 per year whereas a Lower Township resident would pay almost $9,000 taxes on a property of the same value.
Smith referred to a code of ethics for school board members noting members should not surrender independent judgment to special interest groups.
Board member Sharon Lee Kustra said she had a dual role, looking out for the welfare of the children but to manage their education in fiscally responsible manner.
Smith said she had concerns how long a sending school relationship between Cape May Elementary and the regional school would last into the future, 10 to 15 years down the road.
Technology Teacher Deborah Hollingshead asked if it was wise to pursue dissolution of the regional school when that district provided a child study team to Cape May Elementary under a shared services agreement.
Peter Iurato, a member of the Taxpayers Association of Cape May, said the organization was not looking to dissolve the regional school completely.
“That is the legal term to use to get to the point of getting a fair and equitable funding formula for paying for our student’s education,” he said. 
Contact Fichter at: jfichter@cmcherald.com

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