Surf City Opposes LBI School Referendum

Jun 21, 2017

Opposition to the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District’s September referendum asking voters to approve an $18.4 million plan to sell off one elementary school so it can expand and renovate the other is growing among Island officials.

Last month, the Ship Bottom Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution rejecting the plans for the LBI School and the Ethel A. Jacobsen elementary schools. Recently, Long Beach Township and Surf City followed suit. In Surf City, Mayor Francis Hodgson sent a letter to the state Department of Education outlining his problems with the plans for the E.J. School.

“Of course, as the mayor of a small community I am very budget conscious, while at the same time advocating for the best interest of our children,” Hodgson said in the June 7 letter, which was distributed to the audience at the annual Surf City Taxpayers Association meeting. “At the same time, while I understand the intentions of the school board, I sometimes question their motives and their pragmatism while proceeding with such a monumental undertaking.”

The scope of the plans in question surrounds selling off the LBI School, located in Ship Bottom, and using that money to offset the cost of expanding and renovating the E.J. School. Expansion and renovation of the E.J. School are required in order to house the district’s full student body. All of the Island communities except Beach Haven, which has its own school, send students to the two elementary schools.

In his letter, Hodgson said the consolidated school district has rejected a number of issues without providing a clear explanation.

“The issues involved,” he writes, “are major impediments that must be addressed with real solutions, and most importantly, with accurate cost estimates.”

Hodgson is referring to the initial work proposed by the board, which called for a $9 million project. At nearly $20 million, the current plans do not account for a storm drainage on a Ship Bottom easement that may need to be relocated; the fact that the existing school does not conform to Federal Emergency Management Administration elevation regulations; and finally which municipality would supply water to the school addition. The new addition to the school is to be located in Ship Bottom, but the board believes Surf City will supply city water.

“Surf City will not and cannot supply water to a building located outside of the municipality,” Hodgson said in this letter, adding the Ocean County Department of Engineer examined the storm drain and determined it cannot be relocated and still serve the same purpose. “With regard to FEMA regulations, it is the opinion of Surf City town professionals, who will be involved with issuing permits and assuring compliance with the rigorous regulations in place, that this project is not exempt from FEMA requirements and building codes.”

At the borough council meeting June 14, Hodgson told the public the council has focused on this issue because it is what is most pressing, and he called the information that’s been circulating from the school board “bunk.” At that time, he questioned expanding the E.J. School to house 400 students when the district’s own numbers show the student body to be roughly 175.

“We don’t hate schools,” Hodgson said, noting bringing additional Choice Program students to the district to fill a school doesn’t make financial sense. It costs about $25,000 to educate a Choice student, but the school district receives only about $12,000 for each Choice pupil. “They’re losing money.”

The elementary school district voted six years ago to merge the LBI and Jacobsen schools, intending to sell off the LBI Grade School and use the proceeds to expand the Jacobsen school. The LBI School was listed for $9.5 million in 2011. The price was later lowered.

In 2014, then-Surf City Mayor Leonard T. Connors asked the school district to consider an offer to sell the Jacobsen school property to the borough. It went nowhere. Just last year, Ship Bottom officials did the same but were shot down after Surf City officials failed to endorse the district-mandated resolution supporting the sale of the school and property to Ship Bottom.

Ship Bottom officials do not want to see the LBI School property become a housing development. They offered $4 million to purchase the school and property with the intention of keeping the building and open space.

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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