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Conflicted Atlantic City board members vote to end superintendent search

The Atlantic City Board of Education voted to end its $25,000 superintendent search, clearing the way for retiring Superintendent Barry Caldwell to stay on a month-to-month basis while a new search is conducted.
The vote to end the search originally appeared to fail, with five yes votes, two no votes and three abstentions.
But after a two-hour executive session, board solicitor Tracy Riley announced that she had been wrong, and that only a majority of those who voted was necessary.
The vote was already a difficult one, since half the board has conflicts because they have family members who work for the district.
As a result, they had to invoke the “Doctrine of Necessity,” which allows board members who normally would have conflicts to vote because otherwise there would not be a quorum.
Four of the five yes votes were from the conflicted members: board President Shay Steele, Vice President Patricia Bailey and members Ruth Byard and Walter Johnson.
Subrata Chowdhury also voted yes.
The other conflicted member, Al Herbert, abstained.
It is the second time the board has voted to end the search. In February, the vote passed but was negated after a judge overturned Riley’s decision to bar the vote of board member Farook Hossain, whose residency has been questioned.
At that time, the indication was that Hossain being on the search committee was the reason the search was ending.
But this time, it appears Steele had concerns about how the search was being conducted, including that just two board members were making the decision.
But board member John Devlin, who headed the committee, pointed out that it was four board members — the only four who were not conflicted. That does not include the then-Ventnor representative, who has since passed away.
“We have a conflicted member interfering with an ongoing search,” Devlin said.
“We’re losing $25,000 and three months of work,” he added. “It was a lot of long nights, it was a lot of resumes.”
The committee already had whittled the search down to three candidates, including two in-house.
“To just have the rug pulled out from under us is disheartening,” Devlin said.
He said if Steele had any issues with the search, he could have come to him.
“You could have reached out to me,” Steele said.
“I can’t reach out to you, you’re conflicted,” Devlin replied.
After Riley changed her take on the vote, the board then voted on another Doctrine of Necessity to start a new search and keep Caldwell on as superintendent on a month-to-month basis until a choice is made. No dollar amount was given on the monthly salary.
That raised more questions for board members, who didn’t understand why another vote was added. The doctrine was not on the earlier board agenda that was sent to those who signed on for the Zoom meeting. BreakingAC has put in an Open Public Records request for a timeline of the differing agendas, and when the second doctrine was added.
No such vote was made the first time the search was terminated.
“This was failed before, why are we voting again?” board member Kazi Islam asked.
“It required a new doctrine to have a new search to select a new company,” Riley explained.
“Four hours wasting time,” Hossain said. “Why are we even spending time here? We are arguing. We are fighting each other.”
But Steele shut down any further debate.
“It’s 9:40,” he said. “We need to vote on this so people can get home to their families.”
The vote then passed 6-3, again with all but one of the conflicted members voting yes.
“I’m going to do what everyone else with a family member in the district should have done, and abstain,” Herbert said.
Under the doctrine, the resolution is now forwarded to the School Ethics Commission for review.

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