Protect Our Heart

Oct 23, 2019

To the Editor:

I moved back to the area about two years ago; my husband and I were both raised here and went to college in other states, then settled in Hoboken for eight years. When we decided to start a family, we wanted to come home to LBI.

I read about the Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education’s August special meeting in The SandPaper this summer. I couldn’t believe what I saw – the board was proposing to do structural repairs to the LBI School, merge all the students into that building and close the E.J. site, leaving it vacant. Why was my son’s future school district being dismantled?

I had heard only the best things about both schools – their teachers, administrators and staff. I had also heard people around town say, “Oh, the school board gets crazy; it’s all drama.” Naively, because I grew up here, I assumed everyone was nice and all about maintaining this amazing community. Well, I attended the August special meeting, and it was nothing like what I assumed.

President Fenimore berated taxpayers that came up for question and comment. This was the first presentation of a plan; of course members of the community had constructive criticism to share. This was an initial suggestion for merging students from a two-school system to a one-school system – inherently affecting the future of how our students will learn, limiting how we can expand future learning spaces, discounting a plan for emergency housing, discounting if Beach Haven is asked to consolidate by the state, and limiting what special programs we may want to house in the future.

A majority of the community wanted to know more before having this referendum go to public vote. I was in complete shock that such a premature plan would be presented to the public at this special meeting, let alone put before the public to vote. In my professional life, if I asked my boss for $7.68 million and then followed it up with four slides and a handshake, saying, “We’ll figure out the details later,” he’d have thrown me off the project.

We need a strategic five-year master plan for the district before we agree to attach a $7.68 million bond and all of our $1.6 million capital reserve to one building. After the state gives us the bond money, it can be spent only on the LBI School – and items listed on the proposal, none of which include updates to the classrooms or adding classrooms. We would have no funds left to structurally repair the E.J. property.

The district has engineers come out yearly to check both the E.J. and LBI properties/buildings. We can afford to maintain both properties while we develop a more thought-through, long-term solution for the future of our district. In the structural report for the LBI School, the engineer recommends doing further inspections of the pilings because he could see only a small portion of them during his walkthrough. These things should be done before attaching a dollar amount to a large structural repair.

The board prefaced this presentation by saying, “The state will make us consolidate. It will save us money, and the students fit in LBI.” Notice, no mention of educational objectives or what’s best for our learners/students or teachers.

First off, the state is not making us consolidate. We are already a consolidated district. We house and educate students from five municipalities. The state confirmed we are not on any list for consolidation. If the state were to suggest we do anything, it would be to share more services among the seven municipalities on our 18-mile island. Gov. Murphy just dedicated $10 million dollars to his LEAP program to help towns share services in an effort to make New Jersey more efficient.

I’m appalled to see the board truly believes it can maintain the current quality of education without updating or adding classrooms to the LBI School before students are set to be merged there. This referendum is illogical. It is not improving our educational experience; it’s dismantling an awarded, thriving two-school system that educates future leaders of our community and country. We should be proud to say we send this caliber of individual out into our society.

At the end of the day this is about community. Schools are the heart of a community; it’s where people of every age and background come together. Let’s protect our heart.

Vote for change this November. I support Brielle Hoffacker – Township, Marilyn Wasilewski – Barnegat Light and Devon Taylor Karvan (write-in) – Harvey Cedars for LBICSD Board of Education.

Kristin Power

Surf City

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