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Atlantic City’s superintendent search quietly begins again

The search for the new superintendent for the Atlantic City School District has started. But even some board members didn’t seem to know candidates were being interviewed.
A meeting was quietly held at the Atlantic City High School Boathouse on Thursday night.
BreakingAC watched as several people went inside after a security guard first checked to make sure their names were on a list.
Tracy Riley, the Board of Education’s solicitor, coordinated the interviews, according to Kazi Islam, one of three board members on the six-member search committee.
“She’s not asking any questions,” said Islam, who left the meeting early. “She’s just coordinator.”
Riley has been a catalyst throughout the search, including helping stop the first search, deciding not to have a vendor coordinate the search and allowing the board president — who is conflicted from participating in the search — to handpick the search committee.
She has refused to answer any questions about these moves. On Thursday night, she again ignored a BreakingAC reporter who asked her what the meeting that went from about 5 to 9 p.m. was about.
Riley, who had come outside a second time to retrieve files from her vehicle, walked back into the building, where a worker closed the door that had been open the entire time. The worker then came back and locked it.
Later, when Islam left the meeting, he confirmed that it was the search committee conducting interviews.
When asked why Riley was there, he said she was on the committee.
But when pressed about her being on the committee, he said, that she coordinated who came in and when.
The newest advertisement for candidates had all applications go to Riley directly.
In the past, the board has had a vendor guide the search that way.
The original search started last year with former district state monitor Gary McCartney as the vendor for $25,000.
The committee already had whittled the candidates down to three, including two in-district employees, board member John Devlin — who headed the former search committee — previously said. Those contenders have never been publicly named.
That search was abruptly ended with no real explanation until a meeting held June 26, during which Steele admitted he called off the first search.
He gave three points, including that one of the committee members is Farook Hossain, who is currently the target of a petition to remove him from the board, with claims that he no longer lives in the district.
Riley also had a hand in the issues with Hossain.
She wrote a letter to then-Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner saying that Superintendent Barry Caldwell had concerns about Hossain’s children getting free lunch.
“I am the solicitor for the Atlantic City Board of Education,” Riley wrote in an email sent to Tyner on Aug. 21, 2020. “The superintendent, Barry Caldwell, recently brought a matter of concern to my attention and has requested that this matter be referred to your office.”
The remainder of the letter, along with 12 pages of documents, alleges Hossain lied on an application for free or reduced lunch for his children. Riley also sent additional information to an investigator at Caldwell’s request.
That led to a letter from the Prosecutor’s Office indicating Hossain may no longer live in the district.
As a result, Riley instructed the board secretary not to record Hossain’s vote beginning at the January reorganization meeting.
But a judge found that — unless Hossain is officially removed from the board — his voting rights must remain.
Riley also endorsed board President Shay Steele’s decision to handpick the six-member committee that will vet the new superintendent.
Both Steele’s wife and father work for the district.
While Riley acknowledged publicly that Steele’s conflicts bar him from being on the committee, she said of his decision to choose the committee: “He is not voting on anything. He is appointing a committee.”
The obstacles that have slowed choosing the next superintendent led to the board extending retiring Superintendent Barry Caldwell’s contract by as much as a year, at a nearly 12½ percent salary increase.
Riley’s firm has longtime ties to Caldwell, with his brother-in-law serving as their of counsel.
Riley previously told BreakingAC that her firm has no affiliation to any family member of the superintendent. But Jacobs — a political powerbroker in the state — was listed on the firm’s letter head for several years, court filings show.
Jacobs’ sister, Gabby Caldwell, is also an administrator in the district and would work under the new superintendent.

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