Moving Forward: Long Beach Island School Board Committee Meets with Mayors

Nov 01, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

An ad-hoc committee of the Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education met with municipal officials in five Island communities earlier this week in a bid to move past the $18.4 million referendum shot down by voters in September. The board scheduled a special public meeting with a notice of a possible executive session for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14, to consider the committee’s discussion with the mayors and what, if any, recommendations.

The initial plan was for all nine school board members to meet with officials from Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City. However, the topic, according to the board attorney, doesn’t fall under private/executive session guidelines. Monday’s meeting with local officials could not be opened to the public because it was not advertised on the board’s agenda, and doing so would have exposed the board to a possible Sunshine Law violation, the board attorney said.

Long Beach Township representatives Georgene Hartmann and Tom Beaty were the only two board members to vote against creating an ad-hoc committee for the purpose of meeting with the mayors. Both wanted to hear from municipal officials themselves, not an interpretation of what was said.

“The ad-hoc committee isn’t ideal, but it’s the best we can do,” said board President James Donahower, who initiated the idea of meeting with municipal officials at the board’s Oct. 17 meeting – the first following the failed referendum. “Whatever we’re going to do needs to be done yesterday. We’ve spent too much time not knowing what we’re going to do, and going down a referendum path. The door was slammed shut in our face. At the end of the day, our job is to do what’s right for the kids.”

In September, voters rejected, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum focused on expanding and renovating the Ethel A. Jacobsen School. Out of 6,157 registered voters in Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City, only 1,717 went to the polls for the special election.

Barnegat Light representative Marilyn Wasilewski noted the referendum passed in her town. It also passed in Harvey Cedars, according to Donahower.

“It doesn’t mean it went well,” he said. “These guys (the mayors) have been working together for years. We should try to work with them. It’s essential we get all the information we can from them. We may hear 10 ideas we think are great. We will bring them back to the full board. Everything is possible ... that’s the point of the meeting.”

Wasilewski and Long Beach Township representative Colette Southwick disagreed, saying the board hasn't had an opportunity to discuss the failed referendum among its members nor to decide on what comes next.

“I don’t get the point of doing this today,” Southwick said. “What is the goal? If it’s to move forward, don’t we need to figure out as a whole what will work for us and then present it to the mayors?”

Wasilewski, who questioned why the board was considering meeting with local officials again when Donahower and some members met with a handful of mayors on a one-on-one basis recently, agreed, saying, “I think we should come up with something we want to do and then sit down with the mayors.”

Those meetings, Donahower explained, were mostly to learn why the referendum failed. The new meeting, he said, is to find common ground and then to see where it leads the board. The ad-hoc committee is comprised of Donahower, Southwick, Long Beach Township representative Bonnie Picaro and Surf City representative Allyn Kain.

“It was great,” Donahower said of the meeting with the mayors, “a very valuable, very positive meeting.”

Gina G. Scala

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