LBI School Board to Start Over After Failed Referendum

Oct 18, 2017

It’s back to the drawing board for the Long Beach Island Board of Education, three weeks after voters in five Island communities shot down a referendum to expand and renovate the Ethel A. Jacobsen School in a move to accommodate all district students following the proposed closure of the LBI Grade School.

By a tally of 2-to-1, voters in Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City rejected the two-question referendum Sept. 26. The first question, for a total of $14.6 million, called for expanding the E.J. School with the construction of eight new classrooms including science, technology, engineering and a math lab as well as an art room, gym and student services office. The second question, for a total of $3.6 million, focused on essential renovations to the elementary school, including updating the heating, ventilation and cooling systems; replacing aging ceilings and electrical panels; and upgrading lighting for energy efficiency.

“Building a modern state-of-the-art building costs a lot of money,” board President James Donahower said Monday, “so there will be a price tag, and it won’t be small. Obviously, the voters do not feel such a building is required. That message is not lost on us, so we are going back to the drawing board tomorrow evening, and we’ll see where we come out.”

The earliest the school board could seek voter input is January; it missed the Oct. 11 deadline for having a second referendum in December. With each referendum comes a price that is paid for, in part, by taxpayers. The county is currently tallying up the expenses of the Sept. 26 referendum. When totaled, the elementary school district will receive a billing invoice from the Ocean County Department of Finance for repayment.

“The county is permitted to seek reimbursement for expenses (postage and printing costs for mailing vote by mail ballots and sample ballots voters; poll worker wages; voting machine rental fees; advertisement costs; salaries of the wages of county election staff) incurred to conduct a special election from the school district,” County Clerk Scott M. Colabella said, explaining state statute. “The same costs would be incurred by the school district if another special election is conducted.”

The school district cannot place a referendum question on next month’s school board ballot, unlike municipal elections.

“School districts are required under state statute to only hold special elections for ballot questions on dates specified. The dates are the last Tuesday in September, the second Tuesday in December, the fourth Tuesday in January, the second Tuesday in March or the third Tuesday in April,” Colabella said.

The school board has been working toward merging the two elementary schools since 2010, when it was asked to consider it as a cost-saving measure, according to LBI Consolidated School District Superintendent Peter J. Kopack. Enrollment was declining at that time but has since stabilized at about 230 students, he has said. The LBI School property was listed for sale at $9.5 million in 2011 when the school district decided to merge the two schools. The price was later lowered.

In 2014, then-Surf City Mayor Leonard T. Connors Jr. asked the school district to consider an offer to sell the Jacobsen school property to the borough. It went nowhere. Ship Bottom officials, who do not want to see the LBI Grade School property become residential housing, offered $4 million to purchase the school and property, with the intention of keeping the building and open space. Their offer also was not accepted.

Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net 

 

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