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School Board Set to Fill Vacant Seat as Legal Questions Persist

The first round of public interviews is set for March 10.

Patch File Photo
Patch File Photo
The Gloucester Township Board of Education is set to begin the process of filling the vacant seat on its board, even as legal questions continue to swirl surrounding the board member whose disqualification caused the vacancy.

The school district received 15 applications to fill the vacant position by Monday’s filing deadline. The interview process will begin March 10 at the Charles W. Lewis School Library following the board’s workshop meeting, which will now begin at 6 p.m.

A second round of interviews is tentatively set for March 17 at the Lewis Library, in conjunction with the board’s regular meeting, which will also begin at 6 p.m.

The process set in motion at Monday night’s board meeting is necessary to fill the seat left vacant when Edward Pearce was disqualified earlier this month.

Pearce was chosen by the board in December from a group of 16 candidates to fill the final year of Andrew Lalli’s term.Lalli resigned in November, less than a week after the Board of Education elections.

He was sworn in less than a week later, drawing the fire of critics from the public who questioned the speed of his appointment, the swearing in and his credentials. Pearce is a local union official and lacks a college degree.

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.

However, the board revealed during Monday night’s meeting at the Ann A. Mullen Middle School that the Gloucester Township Police Department and the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office have begun an investigation into the possibility that Pearce broke the law by taking an oath of office knowing he wasn’t qualified to do so. That action qualifies as a fourth degree crime under state statute.

Because Pearce was legally seated, all decisions he made as a member of the Board of Education may stand, including a 5-4 vote in which he voted in favor of placing Marianne Coyle in as Board Vice President during the board’s reorganization meeting on Jan. 6.

“I asked specifically what effect his disqualification would have on his votes,” Board of Education Solicitor John Wade said during Monday night’s meeting, adding he was given two opposite responses at different times. “ … The Department of Education flip flopped on the issue. It’s my opinion that they should put something in writing on if his votes count.”

The Board of Education received an opinion from the New Jersey School Boards Association’s legal team that Pearce’s votes count, but will look further into the issue.

The convoluted situation prompted multiple board members to question the process for seating whoever the Board of Education selects to replace Pearce.

The Board has 65 days from the effective date of Pearce’s disqualification to name a replacement. If the board doesn’t fill the vacancy within 65 days, the Camden County Executive Superintendent would name the replacement.

Board members made it clear they want to make sure they get the right person in place. Board member Dominic Gagliardi questioned if the board can make its selection, but delay swearing in the pick until the background check is complete.

“We could tell the county superintendent that’s what we want to do and see what they say,” Wade said.

They also want to make sure the process is done correctly to put the right person in the position.

“I am adamantly against the last process,” Board Member Felicia Reid said. “ … We need to be as transparent as possible.”

The process that resulted in Pearce being seated took place in December. He was chosen by the board on Dec. 11 and seated Dec. 16. On Monday night, the board voted not to approve the minutes from either of those meetings. It also voted not to approve the minutes for the reorganization meeting of Jan. 6, although it did approve the minutes of both January meetings in which Pearce was a seated board member.

Reid suggested holding two rounds of interviews. All interviews will be conducted in public.

Jodi Logan February 25, 2014 at 06:24 AM
Whoa quite a mess.....
mathforeveryone February 25, 2014 at 09:09 AM
Amen to Mrs. Reid! Thank YOU!
Joshua Berry February 25, 2014 at 09:40 AM
While I find Pearce's clear connection to Team Mayer disgusting, I take offense to this article and others pointing out his lack of a college education as a lack of qualification to sit on a school board. In my opinion the two most important qualifications are honesty and integrity (as a corollary this means you will put the kids first). Having money or a formal education does not mean one possesses either. While it is good to have people on the board who are highly educated can we please stop assuming someone's resume is the best indicator of their ability to serve our children when in my opinion their character is? Many of the people we most complain about on the board and in the administration have advanced degrees, and we know many of them lack even the most basic set of morals and ethics.
stephaniebelcher February 25, 2014 at 10:20 AM
I do agree with you, Joshua, but I feel, at this point in the game, worrying about what an article says about someone's education is the last thing on my mind as a parent of this district. It is ironic to me that minutes where not passed, but those that were, were of the minutes this disqualified member attended. I, still, do not understand how Pearce's decisions and votings can still count, even when his approval to sit on the board can come under 4th degree charges. I have a very strong feeling that there will not be a member picked under the deadline. To point out, Joshua, I do not have a complete college education, but I do see that what is going on in this board is not legal. Wade seems to make the law as he goes, and I have a feeling that Gunn/Coyle is along for the ride. Not only should Piece be under investigation for the knowledge of his history keeping him from being qualified, but I feel that Mr. Bilodeau, Mr. Gunn and Mrs. Coyle should be under investigation for, also, knowing and covering up this piece of information. I am certain they knew from the start, he was not legal to sit on that board. I totally agree with Mrs. Reid, in the fact, that all interviews should be conducted in public and the public should have some of a say in the voting process, as it should be.
Joshua Berry February 25, 2014 at 10:42 AM
You are right Stephanie that this is just an article, but 15 people have applied for the position. I do not want the people or board members thinking someone is qualified or not for the position based on their education alone. Hopefully others in the future will not be deterred from applying because of a lack of education. Not everyone goes to college and I would like to have at least one board member who did not go to be there to properly represent the point of view of those children and families who won't be college bound. As far as your other concerns, if this is already under investigation I am sure more details will emerge.
Bea Coyle February 25, 2014 at 11:37 AM
I agree that not every Board Member needs a College Degree. However ,it would be beneficial to have a variety of people. A teacher with knowledge of the inner workings of a classroom,a Parent with a vested interest in what is going on,a person with knowledge in Special Education, as no one on the current Board seems to understand the many concerns about that department and some one with finance experience. Above all people with ethics and a conscience would be a great change. If you have attended Board meetings you know that a lot of the decisions they made STAND simply because they said so. That is no longer acceptable to Parents
John Reynolds February 25, 2014 at 01:01 PM
I hereby nominate myself as a candidate, now that the esteemed Mr. Pierce has stepped down, and hope to join that august body of community leaders and educators; and if elected, promise to do my best to provide the framework needed for the youth of this great Township to excel academically and morally – and to plaster the town with more F'n solar panels that you dopes will be paying for if you hang around long enough.

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