Proposal: Keep LBI, EJ Schools Both Open Until Debt Paid

$7.68M to Fix Ship Bottom School Awaits Vote

Ship Bottom — A parent group opposed to the closing of the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School are hoping an amended proposal drafted by some of its members, which requests the LBI Consolidated Board of Education postpone a $7.68 million December referendum, will be seriously considered by the board when it convenes at its regular meeting next week. The postponement would permit further language to be added to the bond proposal, effectively saying the district would continue to operate both its schools for the duration of the debt service.

“It’s the best compromise,” Kelly Phillips, a member of the Friends of the LBI Schools, said earlier this week.

She went on to say the counterproposal allows, if approved by the school board Oct. 15, two things to happen: The LBI Grade School would get what it needs in terms of upgrading, and the district could “start to focus on the kids again.”

The proposal was emailed to the full board and district administrators on Oct. 5 by Sara Colavita, a Barnegat Township resident whose children are part of the state’s Interdistrict Public Schools Choice program. Colavita, who worked with Phillips on the issue, hand delivered a hard copy of the counterproposal to district officials Monday.

“Ideally, we could postpone the public vote in December, and utilize the town hall meetings as facilitated working sessions to determine other solutions for added revenue for the school district,” Kristin Power, a proponent of keeping the E.J. School, said Tuesday. “There are so many untapped resources in this community and state. Personally, as a creative strategist who worked in the profit and nonprofit sectors, I just think the proposed referendum is a premature solution. To have town hall meetings involving taxpayers after the only solution has been proposed seems like a PR move to me and a waste if the board won’t consider alternatives.”

Last month, a majority of the school board approved a motion to move ahead with plans to rehab the 1950s-era LBI School in Ship Bottom. The vote came just three weeks after the board failed to garner enough votes to support the referendum. Surf City representative John McMenamin cast the deciding vote. He was the one who revived the referendum motion discussion on Sept. 17, saying he had voted against it previously because he didn’t feel it went far enough. He wanted wording added to the bond proposal that would guarantee the district would relocate the entire student body, staff and educational services from the E.J. School into the LBI School if the referendum was approved and once renovations were completed.

Without bond counsel being present to rewrite the bond proposal, the board had to consider merging the district’s two schools as a separate motion. It failed when longtime board member Georgene Hartmann abstained.

“There is this huge misconception that we don’t own the land (at the E.J. School),” Phillips said. “We own the land; it just has a restriction on it.”

In the 1960s, Surf City officials deeded roughly 2.9 acres to the district for a school.

“This conveyance is made subject to the provision that if it should be determined by the Board of Education that the above described property is not to be used for school purposes, the Borough of Surf City shall have the option to repurchase the land for a sum equal to the sale price paid to the borough by the Board of Education, plus interest thereon at the rate of 4 percent annum from the date hereof,” the June 22, 1962 deed reads in part.

What will become of the E.J. School is a sticking point for community members, many former students who are fighting to keep the 1960s-era school from being abandoned by a majority of the board.

“It’s frustrating that as taxpayers and parents we’ve been put in a position where this is our best option. But it is just that, our best option. I would genuinely consider switching my vote to ‘yes’ in the December election if this clause was added to the proposed bond,” Power said. “I guess my biggest fear is this board just won’t consider it an option. I really hope the five board members who got us here would see this is a win-win-win-win for them. Happy parents, happy taxpayers, both schools saved as well as all the green space at both locations.”

Ship Bottom resident Rick McDonough disagreed, in part, with the counterproposal. While calling the plan “an interesting concept on compromise, which we can agree is needed,” he believes it just further clouds the discussion on fixing the LBI School.

“There is so much confusion (already),” McDonough said Tuesday morning, adding, “Now is not the time to consolidate.”

However, if consolidation is going to be part of the discussion, now or in the future, it should be a topic the district controls, he said. That’s likely not to be the case if the December referendum fails, considering the state’s renewed interest in regionalizing elementary school districts into existing high school districts or creating new ones, and the fact that the shoring up of the LBI School in 2015 was a two-year solution. It’s now four years later and the school remains open on an extension from state education officials, he said.

“We are close to a dangerous tipping point,” McDonough said. “What we need now is money to fix the (LBI) school.”

That’s all the current bond proposal is asking for, he said. It does not stipulate a school will close. In fact, McDonough said, one can argue the failed motion to relocate the entire student body, staff and educational services into the LBI School if the referendum is approved and once renovations have been completed put that discussion on ice.

“While the board could close the E.J. School in the future, there would be many actions and approvals over many years to make this happen, with many reasonable pathways to change the trajectory,” he said.

McDonough said he intends to support the referendum because it is what is needed for the entire community, and he believes working against fixing the LBI School out of fear of school consolidation “is a disservice to students, staff, families and taxpayers.”

School consolidation has been on the table for more than a decade in the elementary district, dating back to a failed school budget under a previous board and a pre-Superstorm Sandy Island. Since then, every board has spent a considerable amount of time and money on plans for the eventual consolidation of all staff and students into one building.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the school board is slated for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 15, in the media center at the LBI School, 20th Street and Central Avenue in Ship Bottom.

Reposted from The Sandpaper