UPDATE: The final tally of mail-in votes has changed the Board of Education results reported below for Ocean City. Current board member Robin Shaffer has now conceded. The three winners were Michael Allegretto, Jocelyn Palaganas and Corey Niemiec.
COURT HOUSE – On Election Day voters cast their ballots in 17 school board races. Ten of those races were uncontested, but the other seven saw two current board presidents and a handful of other incumbents ousted. In Ocean City, one of three candidates backed by Moms for Liberty won, narrowly. (Election results have not yet been certified by the county clerk, and some changes could occur.)
School boards throughout the nation have become focal points for political conflict, especially over issues of parents’ rights, gender identity and curriculum content. Where school budgets and their implications for local taxes were the major issue just a few years ago, the new concerns have overshadowed financial matters.
In Ocean City, where Moms for Liberty had endorsed three candidates, two of them lost, and the third, incumbent Robin Shaffer, squeaked by with a four-vote victory over his nearest rival. In 2022 three of the four candidates who won election were supported by Moms for Liberty, a national organization with conservative perspectives on educational issues. Last year’s focus was on the state’s new sex education standards.
Michael Allegretto, a former school board member, returned to the board as the top vote-getter with 20% of the vote in a crowded field. Allegretto ran under the banner “Traditional Family Values.” The third winner was Jocelyn Palaganas, who ran with Allegretto.
In Middle Township, all three incumbents were ousted, including the board president, Dennis Roberts, who had two decades of service on the board. It was a night for newcomers, with retired police officer Brian Vergantino as the top vote-getter, followed by Jonathon Hand and Christopher Ingersoll.
Vergantino promised to oppose “radical agendas” at a candidates forum, while Ingersoll said he would defend parents’ rights, claiming parents were too often “shot down” by the current board.
In North Wildwood, voters turned thumbs down on the current board president, but two other incumbents, Scott McCracken and Michael Brown, won reelection. Newcomer Ronald Golden took the seat held by the board president, Charles Burns.
North Wildwood lost its superintendent this year when Christopher Armstrong stepped down. Earlier, Armstrong had to deal with protests at the school over allegations of bullying. Charges were filed against one student and then reduced in mediation.
In Upper Township, five individuals ran for three seats, with two incumbents opting not to be on the ballot. The incumbent who stood for reelection, Thomas McQuillen, won his seat with 23% of the vote. At 21% and 19% respectively, newcomers Kelly Ann Emberger and Rebecca Holden took the other two seats. Emberger has spoken out for local control rather than state intervention in school systems. Holden said she wanted to focus on ensuring that township students are ready for high school in Ocean City.
It was a difficult year for the board, starting with Ocean City’s refusal to admit Christine Lentz to its board as the Upper Township board’s appointee, going with Bill Holmes instead. Upper Township has representation on the Ocean City board as a sending district.
More controversy ensued when the board approved a $300,000 separation agreement with its former superintendent, Vincent Palmieri.
Lower Cape May Regional (LCMR) is the county’s only regional school district. There were seven names on the ballot for two seats on the board. In a separate election in West Cape May, incumbent Kathleen Elwell ran uncontested for that borough’s seat on the LCMR board.
In the contested race in Lower Township, Jessica Donohue and incumbent Thomas Connelly Jr. won seats. Incumbent Charles Hunt failed in his attempt at reelection.
James Morris, running under the slogan “Parents Rights,” had challenged a coming-of-age novel titled “Gender Queer.” Morris finished third in the voting.
In Wildwood Crest, incumbent Justin William Feraco comfortably won reelection with 57% of the vote. Opponent Joelle Tenaglia had 42%.
The only other contested school board election was in Woodbine, where four candidates ran for three seats. Incumbents Miriam Vives-Rivera and Janita Hutchinson retained their posts; incumbent Patrick Keenan did not stand for reelection. The newcomer to the board is Rebekah Adderton-Enright.
Woodbine, along with Middle and Dennis townships, were part of a consolidation study in late 2022 that examined ways the three municipal school districts might benefit from more shared relationships or even consolidation into one regional school system. That study has not resulted in further movement on the issue of consolidation.
All 10 of the other school district races were uncontested. Three took place in non-operational school districts – districts without a school – Cape May Point, West Wildwood and Sea Isle City. In Sea Isle City, incumbent Kerry Mullane was reelected. In West Wildwood, no names appeared on the ballot and the clerk’s office has not yet posted the results of the write-in votes. In Cape May Point, incumbent Peter Manzo was returned to the board.
Races in the seven other operating districts were uncontested.
In Avalon and Stone Harbor the school districts share a single superintendent. Avalon saw two incumbents reelected, Lois Scarpa and Alexis Batten Binder. Stone Harbor returned former borough Mayor Suzanne Walters and Mark Matreale to their seats on the board.
West Cape May saw Thomas Belasco successfully retain his seat on the board.
Wildwood had only two names on the ballot for three available seats. Incumbent Joseph Murray did not stand for reelection. Incumbents Lynn Quinlan and Kelly Phillips did seek to return to the board and were successful. Some 9% of the vote was in the write-in category; the county clerk has not yet announced those results.
Cape May reelected two incumbents, Larry Reed and Sharon Lee Kustra. Incumbent Thomas Rippman did not stand for another term, and his seat went to Janet VanPelt.
In Dennis Township, where the ballot question that would have added funds to the district budget failed, three incumbents whose seats were up all ran for reelection uncontested. Jamie Burrows, Nichol Hoff and Claudia Miller will each serve another term.
Lower Township Elementary had three seats open but only two incumbents who stood for reelection. Joseph Thomas and Gary Douglass each won a new term. Patricia Smith chose not to run again, leaving her seat open. Over 9% of the vote was in the write-in category not yet reported by the county.
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at firstname.lastname@example.org.