LBI School Board Divide Laid Out During Professional Appointment Discussion

Attorney, Engineer Merits Debated
By Gina G. Scala | Jun 26, 2019

Ship Bottom — What should have been routine was anything but as the Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education considered its annual professional appointments at its only meeting before new contracts are put into play July 1. The board, divided on how to proceed with school consolidation and renovating the LBI Grade School, was also split on professional appointments. In fact, only the auditor, Holman Frenia Allison, PC, a certified public and licensing accounting firm in the state, was unanimously approved for auditing services. The contract, not to exceed $21,200, is effective July 1 through June 30, 2020.

The board, comprised of nine members from five communities on the Island, was divided on the remaining two appointments: legal services and engineer of record.

By a 7-2 vote, the board approved a new one-year contract for attorney Tony Sciarillo. Only board members Georgene Hartmann, one of four people representing Long Beach Township, and John McMenamin, one of two representatives from Surf City, voted against retaining Sciarillo despite his limited role. The new contract, as of June 18, was for labor relations only as the district is currently in the midst of negotiations.

The board is expected to decide the fate of Sciarrillo, Cornell, Merlino, McKeever & Obsorne, LLC, the law firm representing the district, at its July meeting. In the meantime, some board members are wondering whom to call if they have legal questions.

“We’ll go back into executive session to discuss that,” William Fenimore, board president, said in response.

When it came time to adjourn for a second executive session – the regular board meeting was called to order at 7:07 p.m., seven minutes later than advertised due to the first executive session of the night running over a few minutes – board members James Donahower, Kristy Raber, Colette Southwick and Marilyn Wasileski voted no.

They did, however, vote in favor of retaining Sciarillo for labor negotiations but against appointing Owen, Little & Associates of Beachwood as district engineer.

“I don’t understand (the need for) an engineer of record,” said Southwick, who also represents Long Beach Township. “I don’t need an answer; it’s just a comment. I know I am in the minority.”

Having an engineer of record came up earlier this year as the board worked to move toward advancing the rehabilitation of the LBI Grade School, which some say was neglected for years after a previous school board decided to merge students and staff into the Ethel Jacobsen School in Surf City if a 2017 referendum were successful. That referendum was rejected by a 2-1 tally in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City.

Southwick had voiced her opposition to hiring Frank Little, a principal in Owen, Little & Associates, when the first contract came up in April, more than one year after the board retained him to update a 2015 report on repairing the LBI School. At the time, she noted most school districts have an architect of record, not an engineer of record. She also cited Little’s work as a long-time municipal engineer for most if not all of the LBI towns as a potential conflict.

“(He’s) doing things our own BA (business administrator) should be doing,” Southwick had said.

And although the board’s consideration of authorizing district Business Administrator Christine Kelly to approve bids and account transfers, pay bills, and approve construction change orders and travel, in between board meetings on an emergency basis was part of the meeting’s annual reorganization, it also showcased a divided board. Hartmann and McMenamin voted against the motion.

“If something major comes up, I will get an email and we will have a discussion,” Fenimor said during the debate, adding giving the authorization allows Kelly to do her job.

— Gina G. Scala

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