Fenimore Resigns from Land Use Board to Focus on LBI Board of Ed

By GINA G. SCALA | Apr 24, 2019

Ship Bottom — William Fenimore reaffirmed his commitment to the students of the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District last week when he resigned from the Ship Bottom Land Use Board to focus his attention on the board of education, of which he is president.

Fenimore tendered his resignation to the land use board April 17, but it wasn’t official until the borough council received it April 18, one day after he sat for four hours listening to testimony on two zoning applications that he didn’t vote on because his status as an alternate wasn’t needed.

“We’re having constructive discussions,” Fenimore said recently of the school board, “and we will be hitting milestones.”

His resignation from the land use board was prompted by an inquiry into whether it was a conflict of interest to serve on both boards while the district considers how to move ahead with a project to rehab the LBI Grade School, located at 20th Street and Central Avenue in the borough.

“I don’t want there to be a hint of impropriety,” Fenimore said, adding he doesn’t believe a conflict of interest exists. Still, he asked for a written opinion from the New Jersey School Boards Association Ethics Commission on the matter. “So, I resigned.”

Fenimore, who was elected president of the school board in January, is in his sophomore year on the consolidated board of education. He is the only representative from Ship Bottom, where LBI Grade School, one of the district’s two schools, is located. That school has been the subject of intense discussions by the two factions on the board for more than a decade. One faction wants to shutter the school in favor of merging all district students and staff into the Ethel A. Jacobsen School in Surf City; the other wants to rehab the LBI School and keep two schools going for the foreseeable future.

Voters in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City rejected an $18.4 million referendum to expand and renovate the E.J. School in September 2017. If that had been approved, consolidating the district’s students and staff into the EJ School would have begun at the start of the current school year. Voters in Barnegat Light and Harvey Cedars approved the referendum.

In March 2018, the board hired Frank Little, a professional engineer, to update the April 2015 report on repairing the 1960s-era  LBI Grade School he helped facilitate. He worked with the same team of professionals to deliver a consistent report, delivering it in August 2018 and again September 2018 after making minor changes.

Instead of acting on the updated report, a majority of the board voted in December 2018 to submit an application to the state Department of Environmental Protection to see if the agency had any interest in purchasing either school as part of its Green/Blue Acres program. Earlier this spring, the board learned the state wasn’t interested.

Since then, the board has moved toward advancing the rehabilitation of the LBI School by taking a number of small steps. At its April 9 meeting, a majority of the board voted to hire Little as the district’s engineer of record. The same majority approved an updated demographic report but failed to garner enough votes to grant Little the authority to submit the demographic study as well as 30 percent of a rehabilitation plan to the state Department of Education. That would allow the department to update the district’s long-range facilities plan and it would open the door, should the board agree, to move ahead with a referendum at some point.

“I’m excited about the LBI School,” Fenimore said, adding he is hearing positive feedback from the staff and parents about the school. “It’s just more of a priority now (than being on the land use board).”

Fenimore said he enjoyed his time on the land use board and felt like he made a difference.

“(You) really stepped up and participated,” Stu Snyder, land use board attorney, told Fenimore during the April 17 caucus meeting where his resignation was discussed.

Frank Cooper, who chairs the board, said he was sorry to see Fenimore go.

“If I have to choose,” Fenimore said, “... because of the leadership position (on the school board)” and the discussions happening now, he chooses the board of education. “We’re coming to a point where we’re going to have direction in the next few months, I don’t know what direction, but we’re going to move forward.”

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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