Community Survey Designed to Provide Data-Driven Results on Emotional School Merger Debate

Ship Bottom — Former Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education member Rick McDonough is backing up his words of advice to sitting board members earlier this year: make a data-driven decision regarding the district’s two elementary schools and not an emotional one. To that end, he’s put together a nine-question survey for registered voters and taxpayers in the district’s five Island communities to gauge community feelings on an issue being batted around for a decade.

McDonough, who has asked the board on different occasions to sponsor a survey for the community, said he consulted friends who work with scientific data such as surveys prior to undertaking it.

“I want to make sure it’s as pure as possible,” he said earlier this week. “I wanted to create a measurable recording of the needs of the community.”

Those needs, McDonough said, have changed since the discussion about consolidating students and staff into one elementary school began.

“(The board) has one opportunity to do this. It has to be done right,” he said of making a decision to take the elementary district from two schools down to one. “There is no delete key (if they get it wrong).”

McDonough said he designed the questions to make respondents reflect on their responses before answering the questions.

“I want people to think deeply (about this),” he said. “It’s been on my mind for at least a year, but I never thought it was needed more than after (last week’s) meeting.”

At a special school board meeting last week, district officials revealed, for the first time, some but not all of the aspects of rehabbing the LBI Grade School and consolidating students and staff into the 1950s-era school at a future date. A motion to move forward with those plans, with a price tag of roughly $7.6 million, was voted down by a majority of the board. Surf City representative John McMenamin cast the deciding vote just after 10 p.m. Aug. 28.

Members of the public addressed the board for nearly three hours, speaking, mostly, against merging staff and students into the LBI School.

“There was a line of people making emotional comments,” McDonough said, adding, in those comments the public was telling the board they were going in the wrong direction for the district and the community. “The dynamics (of the community) has changed. Technology allows people to work from home; to make more money and commute once or twice a week to New York or Philadelphia.”

The survey can be found at McDonough is hoping to reach at least 300 registered voters/taxpayers so the results match the number of those who generally turn out to vote.

“I’d love to get 1,000 (responses) by the 17th (of September, the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting),” he said.

Earlier this year, McDonough and former school board member Tom Beaty took the current board to task for failing to make a decision about whether it will continue to operate two schools or consolidate into one elementary school in the near future and failing to select which school it will continue to operate, effectively moving past a rejected $18.4 million referendum in 2017.

— Gina G. Scala

Reposted from The Sandpaper