CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The Wildwood School District does not need permission from North Wildwood to lease classroom space at the St. Simeon Episcopalian Church annex in North Wildwood, a Superior Court Judge has ruled.
Judge J. Christopher Gibson ruled last month that state law allows a board of education to obtain a limited amount of land in an adjoining district for the education of its children.
The decision states there is no requirement the district give prior notice to the neighboring municipality or obtain its consent. But it does note the law limits the action to adjacent or adjoining districts.
“Here, using St. Simeon’s to school preschoolers and kindergarteners achieves this school purpose,” Gibson wrote in the decision, filed April 28, which dismissed the case filed by the city of North Wildwood.
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said since the case is still active, he would refer comments to attorney Joseph Betley. Betley said in a phone message that he has been authorized to file an appeal and is in the process of preparing it.
Wildwood Superintendent J. Kenyon Kummings said by phone he is happy to have a decision in the district’s favor but disappointed in the lengthy and costly legal action.
“We are doing what is best for our kids,” he said. “This has met our needs so far. There is nothing else in the area that is move-in ready, though we will continue to look.”
Wildwood has leased the classroom space and a cafeteria area at the church annex, which is just over the border of the two towns, since 2002. It currently houses the district’s disabled preschool students, plus three preschool classes and four kindergarten classes. The current lease is about $130,000 per year, Kummings said.
According to the decision, the issue came up in 2014, when North Wildwood police Chief Matthew Gallagher approached Rosenello and City Administrator Kevin Yecco about entering into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Wildwood School District.
School districts are required to have MOAs with local police that ensure cooperation during a crisis or other situation in the schools. Wildwood has one with the Wildwood police, Kummings said. An MOA with North Wildwood has been on hold during the litigation.
North Wildwood filed a complaint in 2014 with the state Education Commissioner claiming Wildwood was educating students in North Wildwood without permission. That complaint was withdrawn in 2015 and instead a complaint was filed in Cape May County Civil Court.
Kummings said Wildwood has spent almost $77,000 defending the case so far.