Survey: Community in Favor of School Consolidation, Keeping EJ School

By Gina G. Scala | Sep 25, 2019

Surf City — More than half, or 65.97 percent, of the 150 respondents to a community survey regarding the merger of the LBI Consolidated School District’s two elementary schools said they are in favor of shuttering one of the schools. Further, almost 80 percent said they would like to see a ballot question at the next general election to either approve or reject consolidation.

Six survey respondents didn’t answer whether they’re in favor of consolidation, while two failed to say whether they’d like to see a ballot question on the issue.

The nine-question Survey Monkey questionnaire is, in part, the brain child of former school board member Rick McDonough. It’s been circulating since earlier this month. McDonough posted a link to the results the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 24.

If voters approve consolidation, 70 percent of respondents said they would want the students to merge into the Ethel A. Jacobsen School. The remaining 30 percent of respondents said they would like to see the district consolidate all students into the LBI Grade School. Eight individuals who took the survey skipped answering this question, according to the results.

At the Sept. 17 school board meeting, a motion to mothball the E.J. School and merge students into the 1950s-era LBI School was blocked by a 4-4-1 vote. A revived motion to move forward with a $7.68 million referendum to make the necessary improvements to the Ship Bottom building was approved, nearly three weeks after it failed to gain enough votes. Polls are expected to be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

The discussion surrounding shutting one of the district’s two schools goes back a decade to a different board, a pre-Superstorm Sandy LBI, and a report that recommended consolidation as a solution to a $400,000 budget cut. Every board since then has spent a significant amount of time and money on plans for the eventual consolidation of all staff and students into one building.

Opponents of closing the E.J. School are concerned about impacts to students, staff and the community, including losing that small-town vibe the E.J. School is well known for giving off to students, parents and community members; losing open space on a barrier island that has seen a drastic change in esthetics since Superstorm Sandy; and being limited in providing continuity of education on the Island should another Sandy or other event make the LBI School unusable. They’re concerned the board is being shortsighted in selecting the LBI School, which is located on a smaller parcel of land and doesn’t have open space or room to grow as the E.J. School does.

Nearly 44 percent of the respondents are in favor of demolishing whichever school is eventually closed to create open green space or a park, according to the survey results. Coming in second, at 35 percent, is maintaining the buildings and grounds for community use/gatherings/events. Lastly, 33 percent of respondents are in favor of selling the property to offset the cost of consolidation expenses to the taxpayers. Six individuals who took the survey didn’t answer this question.

The polling sample of registered voters, according to the survey results, is: Barnegat Light, 4.8 percent; Harvey Cedars, 7.6 percent; Long Beach Township, 29.7 percent; Ship Bottom, 25.5 percent; and Surf City, 14.9 percent. Nearly 18 percent of respondents aren’t registered voters in any of the five towns that make up the consolidated school district. Five individuals who completed the survey didn’t answer this question.

Long Beach Township taxpayers, at 34.69 percent, narrowly edged out Ship Bottom taxpayers, with 34.01 percent engaged, to take the top spot as respondents to the community survey. Surf City came in third with 14 percent, while Harvey Cedars claimed 8 percent, and Barnegat Light, 5 percent, according to survey results. Three percent of the polling sample are not taxpayers in any of the five communities. Three respondents skipped answering this question.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents do not have a student enrolled in the school district either as a current or future-resident student (non-school choice student). Just 23.49 percent said they are the parent of a current or future-resident student in the district. One survey respondent skipped the question.

— Gina G. Scala

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