Voters Shoot Down Ethel Jacobsen School Referendum

Sep 26, 2017

After more than six years, voters in five Island municipalities finally had their voices heard as they rejected a controversial $18.4 million referendum for the renovation and new building at the Ethel A. Jacobsen School by a nearly 2-to-1 vote.

With 1,116 votes against and just 558 for funding an addition to the elementary school, the first bond question failed. Question 1 had to be approved in order for the district to move ahead with question 2, which focused on making substantial improvements to the existing school. It was shot down by a vote of 1,083 against, and 544 votes in favor.

The election results are the unofficial numbers on election night, according to Marie Peterson, an assistant supervisor for the Ocean County Board of Election, and doesn’t include provisional ballots. The election results will be finalized on Monday, Oct. 2, she said.

“I am sorry it went this way, most of all for the kids,” Long Beach Island Board of Education President James Donahower said last night. “We did not do a good enough job of dispelling rumors and correcting the rampant misinformation. As a result, too many voters believed they were saving the LBI School when they voted ’no,’ when in fact that’s not what they did. All they did with their ‘no’ vote is kick the can further down the street. In any case, I am glad we put the question out to them. I want to know how they feel.”

He said the district will do a better job the next time, “and there will be a next time.”

Despite the loss, Donahower wanted to thank board Vice President Jen Bott, the administration, and all of the parents who worked so hard to get the word out in an effort to bring this project to fruition.

The project has been in the works since 2010 when the board was asked to consider merging the two schools to save money, according to LBI Consolidated 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 was listed for $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 went nowhere, too.

In the months leading up to the vote, officials in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City passed resolutions opposing the referendum.

Gina G. Scala

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