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Gloucester BOE Stuck in Stalemate Over Board Appointment

The board narrowed its options to two on Monday night, but if a consensus isn't reached by April 10, the county superintendent will make the selection.

Barring a special meeting or an unforeseen set of circumstances, the Camden County Executive Superintendent will select the next member of the Gloucester Township Board of Education.

Following a meeting that lasted nearly six hours at the Charles W. Lewis School Monday night, the Board of Education couldn’t come to a consensus on who would replace disqualified former School Board Member Edward Pearce.

Board President Joseph Gunn, Vice President Marianne Coyle, Raymond Carr and William Fontanez backed Scott Owens, while Dominic Gagliardi, Linda Gilch, Ellen Reese and Felicia Reid supported Sean Hengst.

The School Board had 65 days from the time Pearce was disqualified from the board to replace him. The deadline is April 10, and the board is not scheduled to meet again until April 14.

Unless the board calls a special election and comes to a consensus before the deadline, County Executive Superintendent Margaret Jeker Nicolosi will make the decision. According to the Board Solicitor John Wade, Nicolosi’s options will not be limited to Owens and Hengst. She is permitted to pick whoever she feels is the most qualified person available.

A consensus doesn’t seem likely.

The board narrowed its selection to five candidates following the special meeting of March 10, including Owens, Hengst, Mark Gallo, Wendy Witzel and Judith Younger.

All five candidates were interviewed by board members in public on Monday night.

The interview process took about 90 minutes, and the Board chose not to go into closed session to discuss their resumes and qualifications. Instead, board members narrowed their choices to Owens and Hengst.

Owens has no children currently in the school district, although he has a three-year-old son who will eventually go to school in the district, he said during his interview. He didn’t attend school in the district, but his wife did. He’s been a resident of the township for four years, and said he would run for the seat when it becomes available in November.

He’s the director of alumni relations at Rutgers University-Camden.

He’s a current member of the planning board and a member of the Gloucester Township Democratic Committee along with Gunn, Coyle, Carr and Fontanez. He was also previously nominated for a Council seat by Mayor David Mayer, along with Pearce.

Owens insisted he’s a free thinker and will not be impacted by outside political forces. He did add he had political aspirations.

“I won’t leave the board early, but I won’t stay longer than I should,” he said.

Hengst has two children in the district. He also graduated from the district and spent most of his life living in Gloucester Township. He ran for the board in the spring, and pursued a position again following Andrew Lalli’s resignation in November.

“As a teacher, I know the questions that help parents understand the new curriculum,” Hengst said. “ … I hope to give students what they need to improve their achievement.”

Hengst and Gagliardi went to school together, and although they lost touch for 21 years, they both ran for council in the spring and have become friends since that election.

During the public comment portions of Monday’s meeting, those who spoke showed a clear preference for Hengst, and requested all board members explain why they supported the candidate they chose.

Gagliardi made a pair of motions calling for board members explaining their choice to the public. The four board members who supported Owens initially refused to explain their decision, while those who supported Hengst said they would give their reasons.

Eventually, Gunn explained his reasoning.

“I think a University official is a quality enough person to be part of the board,” Gunn said, adding he his decision to support Owens is not the result of any bias against Hengst.

Gagliardi said he believes Hengst would do a better job than anyone currently on the board, Gagliardi included.

“I have a friend who has a special need child who said Mr. Hengst is the best teacher they ever had,” Gagliardi said. “ … I’m begging you all to choose someone who will represent the public. It would be great for this to not have to go to the county superintendent.”

Reid echoed Gagliardi’s comments.

“(Hengst) is articulate, bright and smart, and I thought it was important for whoever we chose to have children in the district.”

No other board member commented on why they supported their candidate of choice.

Pearce, also a member of the Gloucester Township Democratic Committee, was sworn in less than a week after he was chosen by the board to replace Lalli in December.

Pearce served for two meetings before being disqualified upon the state Department of Education’s completion of his background check. It remains unknown why Pearce was eventually disqualified.

Paul J. DiBartolo March 21, 2014 at 09:52 AM
To clarify further, Ms. Belcher, as you know, I ran for political office. To tell me that tax-payers are uninformed is to tell someone the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. I go to Council meetings often and see the apathy that exists in this town. I watch as the room fills up for police promotions, citizen awards, commendations for teams and school bands, and then the people walk away as Council throws thousands of dollars away by awarding contracts to firms that have shoveled tens of thousands of dollars into Democrat campaign coffers. One would rightly ask, "Why did an engineering firm contribute $64,000 in the last election cycle to get Team-Mayer re-elected? For what? What good will is the slush money purchasing? How much are these contracts costing the tax-payer when awarded to firms that have already buried themselves $64,000 in the hole through such extravagant contributions? I am near retirement and the years ahead of me are dwarfed by the years behind me so why would I run for any office, be it BOE or Council? I did not run for myself. I can weather the storms that are ahead. On the other hand, I have a concern for my children, my grandchildren, and all the people in Gloucester Township that are being abused by the self-seeking shills that are spending our hard-earned money. If not for such concerns I would jettison this whole township and its corrupt politicians down the toilet and walk away.
l t Paine March 22, 2014 at 11:17 PM
Can't help but wonder where the leader of our District, Mr. Bilodeau? With all this mess going on with the Board and filling the vacant seat, Bilodeau has been strangely quiet just not the same blustery person that shows up at the building spouting off. Yet with all this going on he seems to have lost his voice, or he is just confirming the fact that he really isn't the leader of our District, instead just the Board puppet. Time to rid ourselves of these Board members that choose politics over what's right and hire a Superintendent that's a real leader instead of a Board puppet that only speaks when the Board tells him what to say. I hope residents remember all this mess next election and vote these people out.
Bea Coyle March 23, 2014 at 07:59 AM
Mr.Bilodeau said very little about the situation on the Vote. It did go to Mrs.Nicolosi,Executive Superintendent for the County.She informed a resident via E-Mail that the School District will begin the process all over again. The School District will advertise that the seat is open and applications and resumes will go directly to Mrs.Nicolosi .She said," All decisions will be made with the children of your Township in mind and not in the interest of the adults". One would hope that means the person she selects has as their motivation to apply what is best for the Education of our children and also that they have no Political aspirations. I guess we will see. Whoever is selected will have to run in a Public Election in November as this and 2 other seats will be up for re-election fortunately.
l t Paine March 23, 2014 at 11:51 PM
If you follow the bread crumbs you will find Gunn, Carr, Coyle and Fontanez will lead you back to Mayer and the democratic machine, which seems odd since the Board is supposed to be non political. These four Board members every move is political and not children first, just look at their push to get Pearce in. Then when he gets disqualified and now they push for another Township hack with their choice of Mr.Owens and when asked to tell the public why they backed Owens over Hengst they refused. Another example of contempt towards residents wishes for accountability and another example of politics first and residents second. Residents don't forget all this next election! As for Mr. Bilodeau I have one question, you show up at our building chest all puffed out talking tough, yet when a leader is needed at the Board meeting you are shamefully quiet, time to man up Johnny boy!
Jodi Logan April 10, 2014 at 06:20 AM
Where is the article that stated that it is tie and going to an official.

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