Cape May-Lower Township schools controversy headed to court

     NewsWorks photo by Amy Z. Quinn

    NewsWorks photo by Amy Z. Quinn

    Perhaps inevitably, the disagreement between the City of Cape May and Lower Township over where the city stands in the regional school district is now the subject of a lawsuit.

    The city has sued Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti, alleging she improperly placed a non-binding question on the upcoming Nov. 5 ballot asking voters in three towns whether the city should be allowed to withdraw from the Lower Cape May County Regional School District, or whether the district itself should be abolished.

    The city has brought in attorney and former state education commissioner Vito Gagliardi on the case and a hearing is scheduled for Oct. 24 before an Atlantic County judge, the Herald reported. The suit came after Gagliardi was unable to get Fulginiti to cancel the ballot question.

    Some votes have already been cast, the Press of Atlantic City reported:

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    Gagliardi did know about the issue in August, because he commented on it in the Aug. 27 newspaper article, arguing the ballot question was not legal because it could be approved only by a Board of Review convened by the state Department of Education and had to be considered in a special election, not a November general election.

    Fulginiti said sample ballots that will be sent to residents in the three towns already have the question, which asks whether the city of Cape May should be permitted to withdraw, or, in the alternative, should the district be dissolved. Fulginiti said 879 mail-in ballots have been sent out and 493 have been returned, so votes already have been cast. She said it would cost $8,928 to reprint sample, provisional and mail-in ballots.

    Officials from Cape May and Lower Township traded words on the issue all summer, with each commissioning a study on a breakup’s effect on the municipalities. Cape May sends a small number of students to the regional district, which serves middle- and high-school students and also includes West Cape May and Lower Township. But the district’s funding formula means the tourist town sends a higher proportional share of the taxes.

    With the impact studies ongoing and not due until Dec. 16, Cape May city officials told the Press a referendum now would just confuse the issue and potentially improperly influence the process. 

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