ATLANTIC CITY — Invoking the Doctrine of Necessity twice in one meeting, the Atlantic City Board of Education voted Tuesday to suspend its superintendent search and took the first steps toward starting a new search, allowing current Superintendent Barry Caldwell to continue in his position until a new school leader is selected.
The move to suspend the superintendent search drew the protest of some board members who felt it was an overstep by school board President Shay Steele and a waste of the $25,000 the district paid its search consultant.
Steele was one of five board members not allowed to participate in the superintendent search due to a conflict of interest.
“There was a process going, and just to have the rug pulled out from under us, it’s disheartening,” board member John Devlin told Steele on Tuesday.
Steele could not be reached by phone Wednesday but told the board Tuesday he took issue with the process of the superintendent search and how so few board members were representing the interests of the district in the decision-making process.
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Steele and board members Patricia Bailey, Ruth Byard, Walter Johnson and Subrata Chowdhury voted in favor of suspending the search. Devlin, Kazi Islam and Farook Hossain voted against.
Albert Herbert and Ventnor representative Michael Advena abstained.
The Doctrine of Necessity is used by school boards in rare circumstances — such as voting on a superintendent contract or a bargaining agreement — to allow conflicted school board members to vote in order to have a quorum.
Attorney John E. Croot Jr. wrote for the New Jersey School Boards Association that the School Ethics Commission has made determinations over the years of when and how the doctrine can be used.
Croot wrote that in 2012, the ethics commission ruled that “a nine-member board with five conflicted members could not invoke the doctrine for the superintendent search process, since the four non-conflicted members could serve as the search committee.” He said the doctrine would be needed for the ultimate vote to appoint a superintendent.
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Tuesday’s vote on suspending the district’s search for a new superintendent passed with a simple majority, board Solicitor Tracy Riley told the board following executive session. She had initially told the board the vote failed because it required a majority of the full board. Riley could not be reached Wednesday for additional comment.
The district has been in the midst of this search since last May after Caldwell announced he would be retiring at the end of this year. In July, the district hired Gary McCartney, Atlantic City’s former state monitor appointed in 2015 by Gov. Chris Christie, as a consultant for the search.
Board members Steele, Bailey, Byard, Johnson and Herbert were barred from participating in the search committee because they have family members employed by the district. Devlin, Islam, Chowdhury and Hossain served on the search committee.
Devlin said Wednesday he was still unsure why the search was being suspended. He said the committee had narrowed the search to three candidates, including two district employees.
To date, it’s unclear why the superintendent search should be terminated. At a Feb. 16 school board meeting, Riley told the board the issue was to be discussed in executive session and involved the participation of Hossain on the superintendent search committee.
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During that same meeting, Richmond Avenue School Principal Shelley Williams and Texas Avenue School Principal Lakecia Hyman addressed the board, questioning the methods the committee used in its search to reach candidates and requesting the position be reposted for district staff to apply.
McCartney, who was also at the meeting, said the job was advertised online, in The Star Ledger, posted on several websites for education-related organizations, sent to the Atlantic City school administrators union and discussed in public meetings.
Williams said the board would have to decide whether it was fair and equitable in the process.
“The law basically says that the non-conflicted people can participate in this process. I don’t know, you’d have to get an attorney’s opinion as to whether or not conflicted people can now step in and turn this process in a different direction,” McCartney said.
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During the committee meeting prior to Tuesday’s regular board meeting, Herbert asked Riley whether the reason the superintendent search was being terminated had to do with questions over Hossain’s residency. Riley said it was due to another issue that was related to Hossain, which she would not discuss in public because it’s in litigation.
The school board has filed a civil suit against Hossain alleging he falsified his children’s free-and-reduced school lunch applications by underreporting his and his wife’s incomes and that he and his family live in Egg Harbor Township.
Following the closed session Tuesday, the board voted 3-6, with Herbert abstaining, to invoke a second doctrine of necessity to start a new superintendent search, hire a consultant and allow Caldwell to remain superintendent on a month-to-month basis.
Brown said the board will need to take up a second vote on this new matter at a meeting at least 30 days from Tuesday.
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