After a lengthy discussion last night, a motion that would have moved the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District one step closer to rehabilitating the LBI Grade School fell short when it failed to garner a majority of the votes.
Bonnie Picaro, board vice president, Eileen Bowker, Georgene Hartmann and John McMenamin all voted to approve a motion giving Frank Little, the professional engineer retained by the board more than a year ago to update the April 2015 report on repairing the 1960s-era building, the authority to submit a demographic study and 30 percent of a rehabilitation plan to the state Department of Education. In doing so, the DOE would update the long-range facilities plans and it would open the door, should the board agree, to move ahead with a referendum at some point.
Board President William Fenimore, who abstained, said just because the motion would open the door for a possible referendum doesn’t mean the district would go that route.
Board members James Donahower, Marilyn Wasilewski, Kristy Raber and Colette Southwick voted against the motion.
Bowker, the freshman representative from the Holgate section of Long Beach Township, introduced the motion, saying Little needed the approval in order to move forward with defining the scope of the overall project. Bowker’s motion, which was seconded by McMenamin, can be introduced again by any board member, according to Tony Sciarrillo, board attorney.
“This was handed to us 10 minutes before the end of executive session,” Southwick said, adding she didn’t have time between the closed session, which ran over by nearly 20 minutes, and the start of the regular meeting to review the documents prior to Bowker’s making the motion. “The fact that someone had the time to prepare this … it could have been on the agenda.”
Fixing the LBI Grade School had put the board at odds even before the failure of an $18.4 million school expansion and rehabilitation referendum for the E.J. School in September 2017. Since the board began discussing consolidation in 2010, the 1960s-era school, located in Ship Bottom, has been targeted for closure. In fact, the school was expected to close in June 2018.
“I’m a pragmatist,” said Donahower, who doesn’t believe it’s fiscally responsible to put money into either school if the district cannot sustain both schools in the long term. “… I don’t think we’re all going to agree. Let’s just start voting and let the vote decide (where we go).”
Picaro, who voted in favor of retaining Little as the board’s engineer of record earlier in the meeting, said the LBI School needs to be fixed – “everyone knows that.”
Raber, however, doesn’t want to continue to sink money into the LBI School. She called the school a “money pit” and said if the district moves to consolidate all the students into the LBI Grade School, the board would give the E.J. School back to the borough of Surf City.
“What would happen if there’s another Sandy and then we have to send all our students off the Island because we don’t have a school?” she asked.
Former school board member Rick McDonough, a Ship Bottom resident, addressed the board in the immediate aftermath of failure to secure enough votes to rehab the LBI School.
“How can you be at this point?” he asked, noting things haven’t changed that much in the near decade or so since the discussion surrounding the two schools began. “Making an emotional decision is highly irresponsible. How can we not have a data-driven decision?”
— Gina G. Scala