The Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education continues to pursue options in a bid to move firmly, and finally, beyond the failed expansion and rehabilitation referendum it previously spent more than a decade chasing, even as one of those alternatives was rejected by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
William Fenimore, who was elected to serve as board president in January, said the DEP informed the district its Green/Blue Acres application for the purchase of the LBI Grade School and the eventual use as a natural park was denied. In making the announcement, the state indicated it would kick the application back to the county’s Natural Lands Trust Fund program, according to Fenimore. The county program is funded through a dedicated tax, providing the Board of Chosen Freeholders with the funds to acquire lands within the county for conservation. A nine-member advisory committee is tasked with advising on the preparation of the required open space plan and the nomination of properties.
The school district went that route itself in 2015 when it sought to preserve the LBI School as open space, but wasn’t eligible for funding at that time. Only time will tell if things have changed, but the board isn’t wasting any of the ticking clock sitting on its hands.
Bonnie Picaro, board vice president and chairwoman of the Buildings and Grounds subcommittee, said the group expects to meet with engineer Frank Little before the full board meets again to determine what comes next. Little, a principal in Owen, Little & Associates of Beachwood, was retained by the board in January to update the district’s Long-Range Facilities Plan, as necessary. His work includes developing a long-range facility plan for the LBI School since one currently does not exist.
Long-range improvement plans for the Ship Bottom school lapsed several years ago when it was believed the 1960s-era school would close in June 2018 as students and staff were to be merged into the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School at the beginning of the current school year. Voters in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City effectively, at least for now, put a damper on the attempt to consolidate the district’s two elementary schools into one when they rejected the September 2017 referendum. Discussion of consolidating the district’s two schools began in the spring of 2010, and a feasibility study soon followed, after which the board voted to sell the LBI School, and renovate and expand the E.J. School, which is in Surf City.
The current board is working several fronts in an attempt to move things along and has authorized a demographic study for the elementary school district. The last one was conducted several years ago. It also approved funding to work with the New Jersey School Boards Association to develop a strategic plan for getting the public more involved. Such a plan hasn’t been implemented in more than a decade. Eileen Bowker, the freshman representative from Long Beach Township, has been tapped to head the public relations committee and work with the NJSBA, according to Fenimore.
“We’re doing our due diligence. We need to be prepared,” he said, adding the board needs to find opportunities to boost enrollment and increase revenue. Admittedly, he said, he doesn’t know what either of those solutions looks like at the moment.
“Is it working with Rutgers or Stockton (universities)?” he asked. “We have to showcase the unique educational experience our students have here.”
He said if the board could do that, then more families would be likely to move into the district.
— Gina G. Scala