After much debate, the Atlantic City Board of Education approved an extension to the superintendent’s contract that would give him a raise of more than $24,000 — a 12 percent increase over his current salary.
Board members Al Herbert, John Devlin and Farook Hossain questioned the significant increase, and how the number came about.
It appears it was negotiated by Barry Caldwell, whose salary increases were previously capped, the state-appointed fiscal monitor explained.
Carole Morris said that Caldwell was the only employee who has been working under such a salary cap.
But when Herbert asked if Caldwell was still the highest paid district employee, even under his previously capped $195,000-plus salary, Morris said she didn’t know everyone’s salary, but that he likely was.
“He is,” Herbert confirmed to the monitor.
Devlin also noted that uncapped raises usually top off at 3 percent.
Morris said that she looked at superintendent salaries throughout the state and that there were others around the $220,000 mark, adding that an unnamed district in Monmouth County’s superintendent makes $250,000.
The group against the raise was at times heckled by those in the audience at Wednesday night’s meeting.
The search for a superintendent cost the district $25,000 before it was abruptly halted, at the bequest of Board of Education President Shay Steele, he admitted at Monday’s meeting, when the extension vote was postponed to Wednesday.
That led to a need to have the current superintendent stay on or otherwise risk issues for a district without a leader, Morris previously explained.
Steele is conflicted from being involved in the superintendent search due to his wife and father both being employees of the district. But solicitor Tracy Riley — who Steele said he conferred with before halting the search — would not comment on the legality of Seele’s actions.
The meeting, which previously has had few in-person attendees, was filled with Caldwell supporters Wednesday night, including Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small and his wife, Atlantic City High School Principal Dr. La’Quetta Small.
Dr. Small is believed to be Caldwell’s choice to replace him, several sources have told BreakingAC.
Caldwell said he had no comment after the meeting. Small ignored requests for comment.
A proposal to extend the retiring Atlantic City schools superintendent’s contract by a year would give him a $24,000 raise, public payroll records show.
Barry Caldwell was set to retire this month, but an abrupt halt to the search for his replacement leaves the district with an emergent vacancy.
A public hearing Monday called for a one-year extension on Caldwell’s contract, at $220,000.
That’s an increase of more than 12⅓ percent, which would also give his pension a significant boost, board member Al Herbert pointed out at Monday’s meeting.
He said that the board had not been given notice about the extension, and that there was no copy of the contract provided.
The increase — more than 12 times the superintendent’s previous raise — would also boost Caldwell’s pension as well, Herbert noted.
“A lot of the public is going to come out and say, ‘Hey, they’re letting this guy pad his pension,’” Herbert said. “It’s not personal… It’s about us having the responsibility for transparency and fiscal responsibility to the public.”
The superintendent search had whittled the candidates down to three, including two who already work for the district, according to previous public discussions on the matter.
But then it was abruptly ended without any reason given.
On Monday, board President Shay Steele addressed that.
He pointed to pending litigation involving one of the committee members, Farook Hossain.
Hossain is being sued by the board, which voted to petition the state for his removal, citing residency issues.
“It was my understanding that we cannot have a process going forward with a board member who’s involved in litigation,” Steele said. “That process alone right there is tainted.”
He also pointed out that the committee wound up with just three board members without Hossain or former board member Al Thomas. The other board members, including Steele, have family members who work for the district, making them ineligible to participate.
“Thirdly the vendor that we had conducting search was Dr. (Gary) McCartney,” Steele said. “(He) was the state monitor when we had the unfortunate alleged incident with Mr. (Kayan) Frazier.”
Frazier is now an admitted child pornographer who was a substitute teacher in the district in 2017, when he allegedly met a Pennsylvania Avenue School student who would become his victim.
The boy’s mother is now suing the district.
“Dr. McCartney will certainly be under scrutiny for being monitor at the time of the alleged incidents,” Steele said.
But McCartney is not named in that lawsuit, which does name Caldwell, Mayor Marty Small and Small’s wife, Dr. La’Quetta Small, who was principal of Pennsylvania Avenue at the time and is Frazier’s cousin.
When later asked if this meant Dr. Small could not be part of the search, Steele responded, “No comment.”
Steele’s reasoning for calling off the search highlighted a big question in the ongoing superintendent successor saga: Why is the board president making decisions on an issue where a state doctrine bars him from involvement? Steele is one of five board members named in the Doctrine of Necessity, which allows board members with conflicts to vote in a limited capacity on issues where otherwise the board would not have a required quorum.
Steele’s wife and father are both employees of the district.
Solicitor Tracy Riley said she had no comment when asked about the legality of Steele’s involvement despite the doctrine’s limits.
Steele even said during the meeting that he talked to Riley about his concerns with the search.
He also sent a letter on district letterhead asking the NAACP for its help in the superintendent search.
When asked about this apparent violation, Riley responded, “I have no comment.”
She gave the same reply when asked if making sure the board follows the law is part of her job as solicitor.
Both Herbert and Devlin also pointed out that the main reason that has been given for calling off the search —Hossain’s involvement — traces back to Caldwell.
BreakingAC first reported in February that Riley emailed the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office at the behest of Caldwell, asking that they look into Hossain’s alleged illegal use of the free lunch program for his two children.
This came, Herbert pointed out, during a year when schools were providing all children with free meals due to the pandemic.
Steele eventually made a motion to push the vote to Wednesday’s regular meeting, when Ventnor’s newly appointed representative will be in attendance.
It was not clear if the members would be provided with the actual contract at that time.