Candidates Contend for Long Beach Island School Board Seats

Oct 30, 2017

During the general election, on Nov. 7, taxpayers in Long Beach Township, Surf City and Ship Bottom will have the opportunity to vote for candidates to fill seats on the Long Beach Island Board of Education. The following three terms are ending for: Georgene Hartmann, Long Beach Township; Allyn Kain, Surf City; and Jennifer Bott, Ship Bottom.

Hartmann will vie against Richard Vaughan for the township seat, while Allyn Kain will be opposed by John McMenamin. William Fenimore, meanwhile, is the lone name on the Ship Bottom ballot.

The LBI PTA invited these five individuals to a candidates night last Thursday, as well as Stephanie Chung, who is campaigning as a write-in for the Ship Bottom seat. Hartmann, Kain and Vaughan were present on Thursday, at the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School; McMenamin, Fenimore and Chung were not, although Chung did send a statement to be read in her absence, and The SandPaper later spoke with Fenimore, who had been out of the country.

Marisa Taormina moderated the event, with Meredith O’Donnell keeping time. Neither is voting for the school board in the upcoming election. Each candidate was asked a series of questions determined by the PTA, with two minutes to answer; then a few more questions, written by audience members, were randomly selected.

Hartmann, a 50-year resident of the Island and a school board member for 22 years, emphasized her experience both on the board and as a substitute teacher in the Southern Regional School District prior to her career as a forensic scientist for the N.J. State Police. She has attended many seminars and trainings as part of her role on the board, and this, she noted, “has given me a good basis for how a school board should be run.”

“As a board member you are a representative of the community,” she added. “You have to be open to the community and the other board members. It’s a dynamic process involving a lot of moving parts. It’s our job to make the board successful.

“I think our track record indicates that we have done an excellent job in providing a foundation for the children,” she pointed out. The Southern Regional class of 2017 included only 28 students from the Island, but five of those students were in the top 20 of the class. This, said Hartmann, is very common.

Hartmann feels she brings to the board “a very analytical eye. I think about things very carefully.

“I’ve been on the board for 22 years,” she noted, “and that experience is very valuable at this particular time because we’re going through a difficult decision period.”

Hartmann was referring to the board’s long-standing consolidation debate: whether to keep both school buildings – the E.J. School in Surf City and the LBI Grade School in Ship Bottom – or to sell one and expand the other to house all of the district’s approximately 230 students.

In September, voters were presented with a two-question, $18.4 million bond referendum that, if passed, would have funded an addition and renovations to the E.J. School. The proposal failed by a 2-to-1 margin.

“I support keeping the two schools,” said Hartmann. “Neither school is big enough to fit all the children, and it’s cheaper to fix both” than to spend $18.4 million to renovate and add on to one. She would like to see the LBI School repaired as needed, rather than sold.

“Once that property is gone, there’s no getting it back.”

Kain, too, is a longtime member of the board. She has lived in Surf City since 1974, and taught at Southern Regional High School for 35 years. Since her retirement, 10 years ago, she has taught classes at Ocean County College.

Of her time on the LBI Board of Education, she noted, “I’ve seen the district change, but always in a good way. … I’m very proud of my time on the board.”

The district, she said, meets its mission in providing “a good foundation” for the students. And even during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, when all the district’s students were housed in E.J., everyone was able to work together, she noted.

Kain also underlined her experience, which includes many workshops as a board member, in addition to countless board meetings, and 45 years as an educator in the local area.

“I’m willing to work very hard,” which is what it takes to be a board member, in addition to time, she remarked. She also mentioned that she would prefer the board meet twice a month, rather than once, as it does now.

She added, “I’m very open. I’m always willing to listen” and to discuss issues pertaining to the district. “The school is the community.” Residents often stop her in her neighborhood to talk about the district, said Kain, and she welcomes that.

Kain supports consolidating into the E.J. School and selling the LBI School. “We can’t continue to have two buildings,” she stated. “I see the writing on the wall.”

The grade school, she feels, is in “bad shape, structurally” and the financials of two buildings are difficult given all the maintenance costs and the 2 percent budget cap.

“I support closing LBI … because of the condition it’s in structurally,” and adding on to E.J., she said.

Vaughan, the owner of Bistro 14 in Beach Haven, has lived on the Island for 20 years. He and his wife have three children in the district, and, he stated, “my motivation for running for the board is them, mostly.”

In addition, said Vaughan, “I hope to bring consensus, and to listen to all ideas and help the school district move forward.”

He believe his experience as a business owner – including his listening skills and ability to cooperate – will be an asset to the board. In a restaurant, he said, “you have to work as a team to succeed.

“I like to listen to all sides, but when I make a decision, it’s followed through on.”

In regard to whether he has the time and energy to devote to the board, Vaughan said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “I have three children under 10; I will work under duress.”

On a more serious note, he remarked, “I have clean eyes and no agenda.”

The board, he said, has “serious choices” ahead of it, and a board member in this position must “listen to the community, listen to the administration, and listen to your own conscience.”

As for the question of consolidation, Vaughan said, “I definitely support one school.” He feels that while both are in need of repair, the LBI School requires “fundamental repair.”

All three candidates in attendance on Thursday said they support the School Choice program, which allows a set number of students who reside outside the district to enroll, with a financial benefit to the district.

Taormina granted two minutes of time to Chung’s statement, which noted that she is a wife, mother, registered nurse and professor, with a daughter in second grade and a son who will soon be in pre-kindergarten. Their education, of course, is of paramount interest to her and her husband, Chung stated.

“When my daughter gets on the bus, I am confident she is in the best hands,” and she wants to continue the district’s record of excellence.

In regard to the consolidation, Chung said, “I have no stance yet,” as she first needs clarity on all the facts, and to discuss the matter more in depth.

She added, “We need to keep the interests of the children at heart” and get back to focusing on how they are educated.

Fenimore, meanwhile, has had a house in Ship Bottom for 18 years, and moved there full-time, from Jackson, in January 2015. He is currently a member of the land use board in the borough.

Fenimore coached for 25 years, including children with disabilities, and was very involved in the Jackson School District, which his children attended. After the district began charging students to play sports, he spearheaded fundraising efforts to help cover these costs, and worked in other capacities with the administration “to help the school system.”

“I’ve been looking for ways to be involved with the community” here on LBI. In addition, he said, “I don’t believe the public is getting all the information” from the current board on issues such as consolidation.

“I believe in transparency. … And I would be the voice of the residents of Ship Bottom. That’s not to say I’d just blindly go along with something, but I’m there to get the facts, and to then help my constituents understand the situation.”

Fenimore noted, “I’ve negotiated contracts my whole life. … And I like to say, getting my MBA (from St. Joseph’s University) didn’t make me smarter, but it did increase my ability to reason,” a quality he would bring to the board if elected.

In regard to the question of consolidation, Fenimore said, “I think you need to keep everything on the table. I think you need to look at all options,” rather than move ahead with the current path, which, he added, was clearly not popular with residents. “The vote pretty much said it,” he remarked.

Those elected to the LBI Board of Education will serve terms of three years.

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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