Former Lakewood BOE Att'y Asks Township to Fund District Football

June 25th, 2017
Former Lakewood BOE Att'y Asks Township to Fund District Football

[Editor's Note: At 8:05 a.m. on June 26 and at 4:54 a.m. on June 28, 2017, this story was edited for style, content and accuracy.

On June 27, 2017, two days after the below story posted, members of the Lakewood Board of Education unanimously voted to give Superintendent of Schools Laura Winters a new 3-year contract, subject to negotiation of terms. Her 5-year contract expires at the end of June. The board initially offered Winters a 1-year contract as interim superintendent, which she confirmed declining on June 22, 2017.

The Lakewood board reportedly spent $25,000 to hire a search firm to find a new superintendent of schools before voting to rehire Winters. The board attorney justified the expenditure as "due diligence."

At the same meeting, former board attorney Michael Inzelbuch publicly announced he was declining the board's June 19, 2017 offer to rehire him. Inzelbuch has until July 1, 2017, when the current board attorney's contract expires, to change his mind.]

Oh, the irony!

For years, Lakewood High School graduate Michael Inzelbuch earned a living by suing the Lakewood Board of Education in representation of parents seeking a publicly-funded religious education for their special needs child.

On June 22, Inzelbuch and outgoing Lakewood Superintendent of Schools Laura Winters, whose contract expires at the end of the month, publicly asked the Lakewood Township Committee, which oversees municipal government, for $84,000, which the Lakewood Board of Education could not afford, so that Lakewood public school athletes could play football next school year.

Township committeemen said yes.

"When you lose, you hold your heads high and we're proud of you," Mayor Raymond Coles told Lakewood public school athletes seated in the audience. "All this money stuff (shouldn't be your problem). Thank you from the Township of Lakewood. We're proud of what you do."

Inzelbuch extolled the students in his comments preceding the committee's action to fund the expense.

"They're hard-working kids and they want to go to college," he said. "That's a no-brainer for me."

Decades ago, Inzelbuch was once one of those Lakewood High School students. His academic dreams propelled him to pursue a career in law.

Inzelbuch is a graduate of St. John's University School of Law, located in Jamaica, Queens, a borough of New York City.

In 2014, 87 percent of the law school's first-time test takers passed the bar exam, placing the law school fourth-best among New York's 15 law schools.

Inzelbuch can thank his Lakewood public school teachers for preparing him academically to not only seek a legal career in private practice, but also in the public sector.

From 2002-2014, Inzelbuch served as attorney to members of the Lakewood Board of Education, as well as a part-time non-public special education consultant.

That was then.

Last month, he turned down an offer from the board to return to his former position as its' legal counsel.

He is not alone.

This month, Winters reportedly turned down an offer from the Lakewood Board of Education to continue to serve as interim superintendent until her replacement can be hired.

Like Inzelbuch, Winters does not want to work for a board that does not appreciate her services.

She will not be unemployed.

Next school year, Winters will be returning to her tenured position of principal, at a reported salary of $147,001.00/year.

Inzelbuch may be earning considerably more than Winters.

Since his dismissal as board attorney in 2014, Inzelbuch has not been idle. He is once again soliciting Lakewood clients seeking an "appropriate" education for their special needs child in out-of-district religious schools. Each time a client prevails in the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), the district must pay Inzelbuch's legal fees, as well as the tuition at more costly out-of-district special needs schools.

These days, Inzelbuch has expanded his advocacy to include public school students.

Those students can thank Inzelbuch as one of the contributing factors to the district's non-stop fiscal drama as it continues to teeter on the brink of imminent financial disaster, shortfall-after-shortfall, school-year-after-school-year.

They also can thank the Lakewood Township Committee, as well as past and present members of the Lakewood Board of Education.

In addition to the escalating cost of sending an increasing number of special needs public school students to class in out-of-district religious schools, the district has been in financial distress for the past two decades after the board approved the sale of its' fleet of school buses. As more families moved to Lakewood, many preferred to enroll their children in non-public schools, rather than public, reducing state aid to the district.

Many Lakewood taxpayers demanded non-remote transportation, also known as courtesy busing, for their non-public school student.

So did parents of public school students.

The cost began an upward spiral as an increasing number of Lakewood public and non-public school students applied for and received hazardous busing from distances as short as across the street from their homes.

As Lakewood grew, so did its' traffic, making the municipality's roads more dangerous to students attempting to walk to class, as well as pedestrians attempting to cross the street.

While many sites are being developed in Lakewood as mixed-use developments that include an ancillary retail component, the residential component is being marketed to large, extended families that own numerous cars. As a result, more vehicles mean even more traffic on Lakewood's local, county and state highways.

That traffic is not isolated solely to the mushrooming developments approved on an assembly line basis by both the Lakewood Planning Board and Lakewood Zoning Board of Adjustment for the past two decades. As more houses of worship and more non-public schools open up in former residential homes, more cars and more school buses become a dangerous fixture in formerly quiet neighborhoods.

To add insult to injury, taxpayers not only subsidize the cost of student transportation to their new neighbors, they also pay more in taxes to make up for the change in use from a tax-ratable residence to a tax-exempt business.

More traffic also means less available parking in Lakewood. As a result, many homeowners park their vehicles curbside, making navigation of undersized roads just as hazardous as county and state highways.

At the June 22, 2017 meeting of the Lakewood Township Committee, a handful of residents seated in the back of the auditorium meeting room applauded committeemen upon their unanimous vote to approve an ordinance on second reading that changes an interior road inside the municipality's largest residential development from a 2-way street to a one-way street.

The change affects Westgate's circular North Crest Place, from its' closest northerly point to New Central Avenue off Hillside Boulevard, continuing in a southerly direction to Hillside Boulevard.

Committeemen reportedly took the action in order to reduce the number of cars parked curbside on either side of the narrow interior road.

Public policy comes with a hidden price tag.

Since Westgate is a private residential development that is overseen by several homeowners associations, any traffic change to the community's interior roads is a private policy matter, and not a public one. As a result, taxpayers could eventually be funding a legal defense of public policy challenged by private interests opposed to it.

During the public forum that preceded the committee's vote to adopt the ordinance on second reading, resident Shloimy Klein asked committeemen who had lobbied them for the change.

"I just think it's the right thing and we've got to run with it," Mayor Raymond (Ray) Coles responded.

In the meantime, the number of school buses traversing the development's interior roads may create a further bottleneck now that they are required to take alternative routes through Westgate in order to pick up and drop off students.

As the Lakewood Township Committee, in conjunction with the Lakewood Planning Board and the Lakewood Zoning Board of Adjustment, continue to promote residential development that increases demand for school district services, the school district continues to remain mired in debt.

Students and taxpayers will continue to pay the price for municipal public policy that promotes special interests over the public interest.

Lakewood public school athletes are just the latest victims of misplaced public priorities.

Civic-minded citizens, such as Inzelbuch and Winters, can set a better example of civic responsibility than to ask taxpayers to transfer their hard-earned tax dollars from one public pocket to another.

Instead, Inzelbuch and Winters could promote the accomplishments of all Lakewood students through social media by starting a GoFundMe donation page, and by being the first to contribute to it.

The cost would be minimal, but the potential for funding is limitless.

So would designation of a district administrator that could add media relations responsibilities to his or her current duties. Those duties would include writing press releases sent to all media outlets that cover the Lakewood School District, not just those the board and its' administrators favor to the exclusion of others, as well as responding to media requests for comment or information.

In addition, the district media relations representative would be responsible for posting on social media on a regular basis to interact with and inform the public directly.

During his presentation, Inzelbuch told committeemen on June 22 that N.J. Gov. Chris Christie - a lame duck governor who is serving out the final year of his second and final term in office - was a "lovely fellow," but indicated that the governor had not supported Lakewood's school district. Inzelbuch also said he could not get reliable numbers from district administrators.

According to media reports, the state loaned Lakewood School District an $8.5 million advance on its' state aid for the next school year, even though the growing district reported a shortfall of $14.7 million - almost twice the amount of the state aid loan. As a result, state financial assistance still left the district in the red for a reported $1.6 million.

The district is reportedly still working with state monitors to cobble together a 2017-18 school budget, which may or may not enable the board to rehire over 100 public school teachers it laid off last month.

"I'm not asking you for the $1.6 million," Inzelbuch told Lakewood committee members, "But I am asking you for $84,000. Please just help us and let the state pay the rest."

Full story »