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Monday, June 17, 2024

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Upper BOE, Ocean City BOE Tensions Continue

By Camille Sailer

PETERSBURG – Fifty-five percent of Ocean City High School students come from Upper Township, and the two municipalities have enjoyed a years-long, amiable relationship. However, as the Herald reported last month, revelations at the recently-concluded trial of now-retired athletic director, Christine Lentz, mentioning Upper Township officials, have cast a long and increasingly acrimonious shadow over this relationship. 
Upper Township’s Board of Education (UTBOE) held a regularly-scheduled meeting Dec. 18. The focus was on the municipality’s ongoing dispute with Ocean City. 
Vincent Palmieri, superintendent of Upper Township schools, reacted to Ocean City’s failure to send any representative to this meeting by earlier stating, “This is extremely disappointing and disheartening as the parties should be setting an example to our children and community and be working together. Nonetheless, the UTBOE will take whatever actions necessary to protect the representation of our board members, the financial liabilities of our taxpayers, and most importantly, the best interests of our high school students and families.”
At the Dec. 18 meeting, Will Donio, UTBOE solicitor, summarized the actions of the board from its Nov. 20 meeting. Because there was no representation from Ocean City at the meeting, Donio said actions, as taken, remain in effect and Upper Township is moving forward as planned to seek additional assistance from other educational agencies.
Donio then summarized correspondence given to/received from the Ocean City Board of Education (OCBOE), which indicate that their position is “that they believe they did nothing wrong, will not be attending any UTBOE meeting, and that Upper Township’s actions are based on a ‘false premise.’”
However, Donio said, highlighting testimony from Ocean City representatives given at Lentz’ trial, and statements made at trial “indicated that an investigation/’search’ did, in fact, take place and directly contradicted statements made by the Ocean City solicitor. As perhaps a coincidence, although no one is certain at this juncture, Upper Township is now being inundated with OPRA (Open Public Record Act) requests, on topics not germane to the issues at hand.”
UTBOE President, Michele Barbieri, stated, “We want nothing more than to resolve these issues,” requesting again a meeting with involved parties to get answers to Upper’s many questions, and get back to collaboratively working for the best interests of all students.
In a Dec. 12 press release, Palmieri stated, “In addition to other actions that will occur in the near future, the UTBOE is compelled to bring additional suit against the OCBOE for the denial of adequate access of certain OPRA requests made to obtain:

  • “Reports, correspondence, bills, fees, and other information regarding DFDR, the purported forensic consultant who allegedly conducted the investigation described in the State v. Lentz matter, where UTBOE members’ names were referenced; 
  • “Reports, correspondence, bills, fees, and other information regarding the Comegno Law Group, who allegedly oversaw or facilitated the investigation described in the State v. Lentz matter, where UTBOE members’ names were referenced;
  • “Any and all bills, fees, and expenses associated with the Comegno Law Group.

“Rather than meet with the UTBOE, the OCBOE attorney sent the UTBOE attorney a letter where he demanded that the UTBOE, and any employee, agent or representative, immediately cease and desist with any communications with any OCBOE board member or OCBOE staff member, including the superintendent, related to this alleged UTBOE investigation or the subject matter of the investigation. The UTBOE believes this demand was unproductive, unwise, and may be constitutionally infirm and illegal, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has recently advised public entities.
“Members of the UTBOE that also serve on the OCBOE recently received certified letters that indicated that the vice president of the OCBOE is requesting advisory opinions from the School Ethics Commission regarding potential conflicts that may have arisen for the OCBOE board members from the UTBOE because of the UTBOE’s actions. Curiously, the OCBOE vice president is named as a respondent in one of the actions initiated by the UTBOE because of her alleged exclusion of the UTBOE board members from OCBOE committee meetings and other actions.”  
The controversy seems certain to continue unresolved well into 2018; further, there exists the likelihood that current issues will be joined by other points of contention, as more information comes to light.
To contact Camille Sailer, email csailer@cmcherald.com.

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