LBI School Board President Talks Change, Goals for Community

Jan 23, 2019

The idea of change, by definition to make or become different, is often fraught with reluctance from those it will impact. Still, change comes. Being open to it makes the inevitable shift easier to bear, and that’s where new LBI Board of Education President William Fenimore’s focus is as he begins his tenure overseeing the beleaguered board.

“We have the privilege to serve,” Fenimore said after his first regular meeting as board president. He was elected to the presidency during the board’s Jan. 2 reorganization meeting. “We’re trying to find solutions and I don’t know where that solution is going to come from.”

Fenimore, of course, is talking about how the board proceeds with determining what is best for the district in light of the September 2017 defeat of an $18.4 million expansion and rehabilitation referendum. The special election was centered around closing the LBI Grade School in Ship Bottom and consolidating students and staff into an enlarged Ethel A. Jacobsen School in Surf City. Voters in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City rejected the proposal 2-to-1. It passed in Barnegat Light and Harvey Cedars.

The board spent some time last year meeting with municipal leaders to bridge the gap of what’s best for the community and what’s best for the students.

“It’s a balancing act,” Fenimore said, adding he believes the board took a step in a positive direction when it approved a motion that allows Frank Little, a principal in Owen, Little and Associates, of Beachwood, to update the district’s long-range facilities plan, as needed.

Essentially, Little would create a plan for the LBI Grade School because one does not exist in a post 2016 world. In doing so, the board also moved forward with a funding application that is due to the state in April.

The board also agreed to follow through with an application submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection Green/Blue Acres program for the purchase of the LBI Grade School and its eventual use as a natural park. Initially, Fenimore wanted to take a step back from the application, but a majority of the board was in favor of seeing the final result.

“Majority rules,” Fenimore said, noting it was something he learned as a first-year board member in 2018 from then-board President James Donahower. “We have ethics and we kind of lose a little freedom (in that we can’t speak badly of a decision that we disagree with but the majority agrees to).”

Mentorship is something he’d like to see from all of the board members and was grateful when former finance chairwoman Kristy Raber offered to help newly appointed finance chairman John McMenamin figure things out, if needed.

“We need to respect each other,” he said, “and give each other the opportunity to speak (our) ideas in their entirety. If someone has a different point-of-view, give a logic explanation. I’ve always been that way.”

Only in this way, he said, can solutions be found and will the public see the district in a positive light.

“I want to make sure people see our district is as transparent as possible,” Fenimore said, noting when people think of the board, he wants transparent and honest to be among the adjectives they use to describe it. “We don’t know where we’re going to be in five years. We’ll develop a five-year plan and a year-plan. We took a step in a positive direction for today.”

— Gina G. Scala







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