By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The identity of Sea Isle City’s new Board of Education member is a mystery right now.
And it may take some time before the person’s name is even revealed.
There were two school board seats in Sea Isle up for grabs during Tuesday’s election, but only one candidate was on the ballot.
Incumbent Kerry Mullane ran unopposed and easily won re-election to a new three-year term with 441 votes.
Without a second candidate on the ballot, 146 write-in votes were cast during the election for a possible second school board member.
Cape May County Clerk Rita M. Rothberg explained that there “will be a winner” among the 146 write-in votes. However, at this point, she has no idea who it might be or if that person would even want to serve on the school board.
“You have to be the top vote-getter, be qualified and accept the position,” Rothberg said in an interview Wednesday. “It is still a little early because I don’t know how many provisional ballots are out there. I will start contacting the candidates soon and see.”
There was only one candidate on the ballot because longtime Board of Education president Dan Tumolo decided not to seek re-election this year because of health reasons. No one else filed to run in the election to succeed Tumolo.
Voters, however, were free to write in the names of candidates they felt would be a good choice for the school board.
As strange as this situation may sound, it’s actually not unusual for a Board of Education election in Sea Isle.
In the 2021 election, a write-in campaign was successful in keeping incumbent Patricia Halfpenny on the Sea Isle school board. Halfpenny wanted to run for re-election, but didn’t submit her nominating petitions in time to be officially placed on the ballot.
Hoping to keep Halfpenny on the board, other members of the school board were part of a community campaign to get her enough write-in votes to win re-election in 2021.
During an interview in late October, Tumolo hinted at the possibility that there might be another organized write-in campaign for this year’s election. He declined then to divulge the name of a possible write-in candidate.
The five-member school will hold its annual reorganization meeting on Jan. 2 to select a new president to succeed Tumolo and swear in Mullane to a new term. There is a possibility that the write-in candidate – assuming that a qualified person emerges – might also be sworn in as a school board member.
In the meantime, Rothberg said she has made it “a priority” to examine the write-in votes to determine the winner in Sea Isle. There are other school districts in Cape May County that may also have write-in winners for the Board of Education, including Lower Cape May Regional, West Wildwood and Wildwood.
“I just assigned one of my people to look at the races. That is a priority,” Rothberg said of all the school districts that may have write-in candidates winning the election.
In Sea Isle, there is no public school. The old school was closed in 2012 due to declining student. In April, the school building at 4501 Park Road was demolished April to make room for the city’s proposed community recreation center that is expected to open in 2025.
Although there is no school, the Board of Education still has the responsibility of putting together the school budget each year. Sea Isle maintains an annual school budget of about $2.6 million to pay for the cost of sending Sea Isle’s students to other districts, primarily Ocean City.
Tuition and transportation costs make up the bulk of the school budget. Sea Isle’s school budget has also supported a number of education and community initiatives in the Ocean City school district, including mental health counseling, drug prevention, a creativity innovation project and an SAT testing reimbursement program for students.
The Board of Education also has partnerships with the city and the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization for initiatives that benefit local schoolchildren.