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.