Margate School Superintendent Talks Enrollment Decline

From John DiNicola Superintendent of Schools:

In late August the Margate Board of Education asked me to come up with a plan that would help the board and other stakeholders address the effect of declining enrollment on district facilities, staffing and programming. After conferring with professionals from the New Jersey School Boards Association and the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, I developed a multi-step plan:

1. Bring our architect back to revisit and assess the physical and instructional capacities of our buildings. We needed to know what we can and cannot do to our facilities while maintaining our educational integrity. A study was done by our architect in 2007, and updated in 2012, to determine how the two buildings can handle contraction in either direction. Both scenarios carried a hefty retrofitting price tag at the time and still do.

2. Determine what effects contraction would have on our academic and co-curricular programs. What would have to be eliminated? What gets taught “on a cart”? Determine what class sizes would ensure the continued academic successes we have enjoyed for several years.

It is my belief that we have addressed items 1 and 2 without creating any disruption in the current school environment. After two meetings with the architect and board members earlier this month, we all agreed that to maintain the best educational experience for our students (through continued implementation of our successful academic and extracurricular activities) the responsible course of action would be to wait and track the current first grade and kindergarten, since those groups had a significantly lower population than the grades ahead of them. We have already adjusted our class sizes in the two youngest and lowest-populated grades.

3. Conduct a demographic study to serve as validation for future decisions, especially in the area of facilities.

There are other options any school district in our situation must also examine during this process. They include:

• Re-purposing facilities: There are several options under consideration for the Ross School building.

• Nonresident tuition for selected grades: This option has garnered some support from parents as evidenced by their comments at Board of Education meetings. This option would not be used to justify expanding; it would just be used to maintain the programs already in place. More and more districts are looking at the tuition option to fill the “empty seats on the plane.

• Regionalization: Some citizens have been calling for a merger with the Ventnor School District. This is a complex process fraught with barriers. They include a required consensus of voters from both communities, the possibility that property values could be negatively impacted, and higher transportation and facilities costs.

• Shared Services: Examples of how the district shares services include the school lunch program with Ventnor School District; transportation jointures with several districts; a number of facilities projects and sharing of staff with the city of Margate; Xtel communications consortium participation for telephone usage; federal e-rate program for discounted telephone service; School Alliance Insurance fund for other than health insurance; and Alliance for Competitive Energy Services gas heat and electricity.

Whatever direction the district goes in the upcoming years, it is highly unlikely that either of our two school buildings would be torn down. Because of that and the need to keep our children in the healthiest educational environment possible, the Margate School District fully intends to move forward with a long-range facilities plan that includes several maintenance projects for both buildings. I plan to introduce a bond ordinance that would efficiently fund these projects and allow for a gradual repayment of our debt without negatively affecting the annual budget. We are talking about the most valuable investment anyone could make – the health and safety of our children.

Anyone who is familiar with Margate schools knows how successful it has been in providing a challenging academic environment that also nurtures the individual by promoting recognition and affiliation. Our PARCC scores speak themselves. Margate students outperformed the state average for the 2016 PARCC in both English language arts and mathematics by a double-digit margin in every grade. Of particular note is that 100 percent of Margate students taking the algebra assessment, a high school end-of-course assessment, either met or exceeded expectations. The reason for this success lies in the hard work of our students and their teachers, along with the support we get from students’ families. Our children also benefit from smaller class sizes and efficient use of our facilities. This kind of success puts extra pressure on any plan to contract the district and makes minimizing the way we deliver these programs difficult to fathom. I hope that everyone sees that this plan has taken all of these factors into consideration.

John DiNicola Superintendent of Schools

As seen in the SHORE NEWS TODAY


1 thought on “Margate School Superintendent Talks Enrollment Decline”

  1. We don’t need an Over Paid full time school superintendent for 2 schools. We don’t ever need the 2 schools.
    If something isn’t done soon we could have Atlantic City students placed in Margate Schools.
    Do we really want that?
    John Sewell comments (although colorful) are absolutely correct. and yet he gets ignored and even laughed at when trying to express his concerns.
    Margate needs to downsize the school facilities.

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