LONG BEACH ISLAND — A referendum that could have resulted in the closure of one of the two schools in the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District was defeated in a referendum on Tuesday. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the referendum 72% to 28%. The total amount of eligible voters who went to the polls was 1,714 out of 6,013 eligible voters. 1,276 citizens voted against the LBI School (Ship Bottom) improvements while 476 voted for it.
Parents and some board members had spoken out against the bond referendum that would have made structural improvements to the larger and slightly older Long Beach Island Grade School in Ship Bottom. Others have spoken out questioning the integrity of the current Board of Education. The improvements could have made it possible to close the smaller kindergarten through second-grade Ethel A. Jacobsen School in Surf City permanently.
The Borough of Surf City made an offer to purchase the building and property in Surf City for 3 million dollars last month. That offer has caused much controversy. The recent history of the LBICSD had been full of controversy and turmoil.
The Board of Education was hoping to gain funds for the repair and replacement of pilings under the building, additional and improved ADA access points, HVAC improvements throughout the building that included upgraded heating and school wide air conditioning. The plan also called for updated lighting and renovated bathrooms. Additional funds were set to be used for interior improvements to accommodate all grade levels at the LBI School. 40% of that money would have been provided by a grant from the State of New Jersey.
The supporters of the referendum, which included five of the nine current school board members, believed in the long run, money would have been saved and a much more efficient kindergarten through sixth-grade district of 224 students would have been implemented.
In January, two new board members will be sworn in. They are Brielle Hoffacker taking over the seat of longtime member Bonnie Picaro and Fred Schragger takes over the Harvey Cedars seat vacated by James Donahower, who did not seek reelection.
Many believe this is a crucial time for the district to move forward and make grossly neglected building improvements. The defeat reveals that the voters may have a different idea about the future welfare of the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District. There has been much division expressed regarding the future direction of the district and the leadership of the Board of Education.
Is Regionalization in the Future?
Just last month, Governor Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney held a press conference reinforcing their plan to consolidate all districts into Kindergarten through 12th grade districts throughout the state. Gov. Phil Murphy last month announced the release of funding to be used to study consolidation.
There is the possibility that the Long Beach Island, Beach Haven and Stafford School District will become part of the Southern Regional School District. Southern would change from a 7-12 grade district to a K-12 district.
There are those that believe if Governor Murphy were to see the consolidation of smaller districts throughout NJ into larger regional districts, that Southern Regional's consolidation could be at the bottom of the priority list. The reason being is that Southern has a complicated regional agreement with its area towns.
However, New Jersey is a firmly grounded democratic state. Murphy can expect to be easily reelected in 2021. What will be the future of funding for schools on LBI and in Southern Ocean County? The Toms River School District lost millions in aid this school year and 2020-21 is looking bleak and radical cuts are being planned for next year. There has been talk of eliminating kindergarten, afterschool activities and a reduction in teachers and staff.
The Long Beach Island Consolidated School District has faced struggles in the past decade or longer having enough funding to sustain the schools. The Board has put off maintenance and upgrades to fund the most important educational programs. The district does not have a librarian, music programs has been cut, the swimming program reduced, curriculum updates put off, etc. The Ethel Jacobsen School has electric heat that is extremely expensive but money has never been approved to install a more efficient system. These problems facing the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District are no different from those in small school districts throughout New Jersey.
The Long Beach Island Board of Education promoted the referendum, making public presentations at the Ship Bottom Borough Hall, High Point Volunteer Fire Company in Harvey Cedars and the Surf City Borough Hall. Yet, the referendum has been rejected.
Board Meeting Thursday
Now, what does the future hold for the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District? The coming weeks and months will tell. There will be a potentially stormy meeting on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at the LBI School in Ship Bottom. The Board of Education will move on and hopefully consensus between the Board of Education and stakeholders will develop and the district can move forward positively to benefit the children of Long Beach Island.