Four Vie for Two Long Beach Township Seats on LBI School Board

Oct 24, 2018

On Nov. 6, taxpayers in Long Beach Township and Surf City will have the chance to vote for candidates to fill seats on the Long Beach Island Board of Education, as the following three terms are ending: Colette Southwick, Long Beach Township; Tom Beaty, Long Beach Township; and Kristy Raber, Surf City. Raber is running unopposed to retain her seat.

Meanwhile, newcomers Nathan Colmer and Eileen Bowker are in the race for the two township seats along with Beaty and Southwick, the current board vice president.

Southwick was raised in Beach Haven and attended Beach Haven Elementary School. She now resides in the Beach Haven Gardens section of the township with her husband and two children, both of whom attend school in the district.

When her children entered preschool, Southwick began attending board meetings, and in 2013, when a seat became available for the township, she researched the role, put her name on the ballot and won.

“I’m invested as a taxpayer, a parent and a board member,” said Southwick, a full-time construction coordinator for Thomas J. Keller Building Contractor. “I have no political agenda.”

Southwick noted her work ethic and willingness to listen as qualities she brings to the board. “And most importantly, I’m present – I have attended every board meeting and committee meeting, and every school event I have been invited to. I want to be here for our kids, our teachers, staff, administration and our taxpayers. I take the position seriously.”

On the topic of possible consolidation of the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School, in Surf City, and the LBI Grade School, in Ship Bottom, Southwick noted, “Personally, I think it’s a good thing for the kids to be a part of a bigger picture,  not only for our school, but all the schools on the Island (which includes Beach Haven Elementary) – for all the kids to be together as a community.

“Because I sit as a board of education member, I have to separate what I would like to see from what works for us as a district, fiscally. We would be able to provide more for our students educationally if we consolidated to one building, based on past administration and current administration research and expertise.

“We are still doing our best to come up with a solid way forward for our schools, and this takes time,” she added. “I know for certain that we are staying in two buildings for this current school year, and in the coming months there should be more information coming out of our meetings as to the direction of our district facilities.”

In regard to the Choice program, which enables districts to accept students who do not reside within school boundaries at no cost to the family, Southwick said, “The program gives us a little more than $500,000 towards our budget – this helps us in a big way. … The cost per pupil is not the same because we already have the teachers, the desk, the books; we simply have a few empty desks that we are filling.

“The Choice students are an asset to our district along with their families – they are some of the most involved parents because they want what we have to offer for their kids,” she remarked.

Southwick is an LBI PTA member and the PTA delegate for the school board. She is a member of the Episcopal church in Beach Haven and the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club, and she helps raise funds for Cruising for a Cure, to benefit David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation.

“I am proud that my kids are a part of this district,” said Southwick. “Seeing the kids enjoy things like the recent ‘Squashing Hunger’ event or the time capsule celebration at E.J. last year, or the musical shows that they put on, is an absolute joy.”

Beaty, originally from Newark, N.J., spent every summer from 1963 to 1986 in the LBI Trailer Park, located in Holgate, but which was sold following Superstorm Sandy. He moved to Holgate full time in 1999, and currently resides there with his wife and son.

“When my son started attending preschool in this district, I started to attend board of education meetings,” said Beaty, who is employed as a construction project manager for a local builder. “At that time, consolidation was being discussed, but no clear paths were presented. I started to get involved in the discussions because I have a child in the district. I have ‘skin in the game.’

“It seemed to me that there were a lot of opinions being presented, both from the residents and borough administrators, but they were all of a financial nature. The children were not being considered. That’s when I decided to run for a seat on the board.”

Beaty said he does support consolidation of the two schools.

As for the Choice program, he noted, “In my opinion, there are both pluses and minuses. It is a benefit to our district in that it brings in nearly half a million dollars of revenue. Also one of the pluses is that the parents of the students in the Choice program are very active in the PTA and other school functions, enriching our district. However, if we are to streamline operations in the future, we may have to begin phasing out the Choice program. We can do this by not enrolling any new Choice students, and allowing the current Choice students to slowly matriculate out of the district.”

Beaty said he brings pragmatism to the board. “I tend to focus on solutions rather than get bogged down with the problems,” he explained. “I can focus on the immediate details, and also keep an eye on the future. I’m fiscally minded, and have a good head for numbers. I also keep in mind, while discussing board decisions, that the focus remain on how our decisions affect the children.

“It will be my goal,” if re-elected, “to set three plans into motion: a two-year plan to address immediate financial needs of the district, a five-year plan to address the changes needed to accommodate the choices made in the two-year plan, and a 10-year plan that provides the guidance to maintain the future district needs.”

Elsewhere in the community, Beaty is a board member, and former president, of Alliance for a Living Ocean, and he just finished a two-year term as vice president of the Holgate Taxpayers Assocation. Prior to his tenure on the school board, he served as president of the LBI PTA.

And, he stated, he and his wife and son are “a state-licensed Resource Family with DCP&P (Department of Children Protection and Permanency) and have been fostering community youths for over 18 months. My family has a strong commitment to our community, and we volunteer whenever we can.”

Colmer, of Haven Beach, has resided on the Island his entire life. “I am the fourth generation in my family to do so, and my children are the fifth,” he said of his twin 15-month-old daughters, who will attend E.J. when of age.

“This would be my first community service organization and I look forward to trying to make a difference. Prior to this my experience in the community has been limited to my professional career and the businesses that I have owned,” said Colmer, who is a full-time real estate agent with The Van Dyk Group. In addition, his family owns a toy store in Beach Haven.

As he explained, he was prompted to run when it seemed the board would move ahead with plans to consolidate the two schools, funding expansion of the E.J. School through a sale of the LBI School and referendum for the remaining amount.

“I was dismayed at the prospect of building a new school building, with a large budget of around $20 million, for what amounts to a rather small school district and limited resources,” Colmer stated. “As I will have children in the school district, I want to make sure that the money that is spent is spent in the most responsible and beneficial manner possible. My focus would be on the expansion of educational programs and not the development of buildings.

“This would include,” as he elaborated on the expansion of programs, “language programs, after-school programs, etc. – keeping an eye on the budget, of course – that should make the school perform better and better prepare the students. Specifically there is a very limited language program, especially in Spanish, when it is clear that having a basic understanding of Spanish will be a useful tool in the future given the current population trends of the nation.”

He added, “Consolidation could be a good route depending on the circumstances. I think we need to evaluate all the options before this can be answered.”

Colmer said Choice “is a helpful source of income and helps to keep enrollment up. This can be evaluated on a year-by-year basis depending on the current environment.”

As for what he would add to the board dynamic, he stated: “Having a background in business and real estate, I feel I would be able to work with the current members to ensure that the school's funds are used in the best way possible. The school is a business of sorts in that there is a budget that needs to be followed and a ‘product’ (the education) that needs to be developed.

“I believe the skills I have learned in the professional aspects of my life will transition well to the task of expanding on the current educational foundation.”

Bowker grew up one of six children in Hamilton Township, N.J., and later raised four children of her own – Kayle, Emily, Brian and Seon, all graduates of Southern Regional High School – her with husband, Brian. The couple, both of whom spent summers on the Island beginning in the early 1990s, now reside in Holgate with their two mastiffs, Nala and Biggie Smalls, and own Bowkers South Beach Deli, also in Holgate.

“We are living a dream,” said Bowker, who also worked as an athletic trainer, with USA Wrestling and most recently at Pemberton Township High School, before retiring earlier this year. She is also a licensed N.J. Realtor. Retirement from training, said Bowker, “has given me time to serve my community in areas that I have an interest,” and after discussions with friends about education, she decided to run for the school board.

As for what she would bring to the board, if elected, Bowker noted, “I am very organized. I have an open mind. I am a team player. I am familiar with education from multiple sides. I am fair, hard-working and rational. I consider myself a lifter, not a leaner.

“It’s all about setting priorities, planning and doing your best to execute the plan,” Bowker said about the board’s aims.  “Everyone can make improvements. Increasing communication and involvement is key for success.”

While employed at Pemberton Regional, Bowker explained, “I was able to observe the borough elementary district consolidate into the township. It was a several-year process that was amicably accepted for the good of the children. It saved costs, and increased services was the end result – this included a state-of-the-art preschool program for all.

“I am also fortunate to have worked in districts that are part of the Choice program,” she noted.

In the community, Bowker, who is a brain tumor survivor, is part of the Family Faith Program at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, serves as a CPR instructor and blood drive organizer for the American Red Cross, has been on the board of the Holgate Taxpayers Association since 2010, is a member of the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association Wrestling Committee and coached her children in various sports.

“I am blessed in so many ways and love where we live. I would be proud to have the opportunity to serve on the consolidated school board of LBI,” said Bowker. “The consolidated Island school (district) is very unique and always will be.”

The school board is comprised of nine members, four from Long Beach Township, two from Surf City, and one each from Ship Bottom, Harvey Cedars and Barnegat Light.

Those elected to the board will serve terms of three years.

To learn more about the LBI Board of Education, visit lbischools.org

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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