Board Agrees to Develop Plan to Save LBI School

All Students Could Be in Building By September 1
By GINA G. SCALA | May 22, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Ship Bottom — The Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education approved a motion last night to develop a plan to move all district students into one school, the LBI Grade School, by Sept. 1 of this year.

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted 6-4 to approve the motion introduced by freshman board member Eileen Bowker. Board President William Fenimore, Vice President Bonnie Picaro, Bowker, Georgene Hartmann, John McMenamin and James Donahower all voted yes on the motion. Board members Kristy Raber, Colette Southwick and Marilyn Wasilewski voted against it.

During his comments prior to the vote, Donahower said he was going to vote yes to the motion to end the bickering among board members and move the conversation forward. He reiterated his comments from last month about wanting the decision to be data-driven, but said, “I am afraid in my heart it can’t be. There are other factors, political, personal and emotional. Let’s take the vote. We know how the vote is going to go.”

Wasilewski said the motion was premature, and Southwick called it “beyond ridiculous and not well thought out. It’s deceitful to the public.”

“There is nothing wrong with the EJ School,” Raber said, adding, “Millions, and millions, and millions” of dollars are needed to bring the LBI School up to snuff.

“You want us to vote on something before we get the report,” she said. “You’re jumping the gun. It’s 7:30 at night and you’re throwing this at us.”

The board’s decision comes a little less than a month after two former school board members took the panel to task for not making a decision sooner. Tom Beaty and Rick McDonough addressed the seven sitting members of the board (two were absent) during the second public comment portion of the April 30 meeting, which saw the introduction of the proposed school budget. During the budget presentation, district officials noted plans to move $1.5 million out of capital reserve in the event a decision is made to move ahead with renovations and upgrades at the LBI Grade School. If the project doesn’t go through, that money would be returned to the capital reserve account, Chris Kelly, district business administrator, said.

“I think we really need to look at the past and why this motion is on the floor now,” Picaro said. “We went to the EJ School (after Superstorm Sandy). It (the EJ School) needs work.”

She said the last time she saw figures for what it would cost to fix the EJ School, it was around $3 million, and that didn’t include an addition for classroom space.

“The issue of the gym is still unresolved,” Picaro said. “We have a paper street that we need to go to court to get resolved and a pipe that needs to be moved. We never got a figure on it.”

Southwick countered by saying any claims the district population wouldn’t fit in the EJ School is false.

“We don’t fit as comfortably (as the student body and staff would in the LBI School). This is a horrible decision,” she said, adding if the board was concerned about taxpayers, it would sell off the asset, the LBI School, and use that money to offset the cost of rehabbing the EJ School.

While numbers were tossed out for what board members believed the cost of updating both schools would be, it was McMenamin who discussed the 40 percent in state aid the district would receive for the LBI School because it’s a renovation project, not new construction.

Fenimore said the public was clear in its thoughts about rehabbing and expanding the EJ School.

“It failed, 2-to-1,” he said. “You were fiscally responsible for it then. You can’t come back now and say you want to change it. We need to find another solution.”

Fenimore, who was not a board member when voters in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City voted down the September 2017 referendum, said he had reviewed all the pertinent materials relating to that issue and consolidation, which date back nearly a decade.

After not making a lot of progress following the failed referendum, the board has slowly been moving forward. Last month, while the board failed to garner enough votes necessary to begin the process of involving the state Department of Education, it was successful in appointing Owen, Little & Associates Inc. of Beachwood as its engineering firm. It also approved, by majority vote and on the recommendation of Superintendent Peter J. Kopack, an April 2019 demographic study update prepared by Statistical Forecasting, LLC.

“We’re paying $75,000 for a report we don’t have the patience to wait for,” Southwick said prior to the vote.

Fenimore said the board expects the figures for what it would cost to do the work at the LBI School at its meeting next month.

— Gina G. Scala

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