With less than a week left before councilman-elect Alex Mendez jumps ship from the board of education to the city council, school board members on Tuesday evening reviewed resumes of eleven candidates interested in filling Mendez’s vacancy.
School board president Christopher Irving began the meeting by passing out Mendez’s resignation letter which makes the vacancy official. Irving then passed out cover letters and resumes of those who expressed an interest in joining the nine-member board.
Members of the board discussed the manner in which to conduct interviews of each of the candidates. 15-minute will be allotted to each candidate with an one-minute opening statement following which board members will ask probing questions to qualify each individuals.
“Board members should develop their own [questions]” stated Errol Kerr. Manual Martinez concurred with Kerr saying he would like to see relevant questions raised that have to do with state control and Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), a metric the state uses to evaluate public school districts.
“Get somebody to talk about QSAC because that’s important,” requested Kerr.
Board members agreed to formulate seven different sets of questions. Three for each of the areas the board deals in on a regular basis: finance, curriculum, facility, personnel, community engagement, and policy. The board will also invent three general questions.
Despite having 24 questions in the hopper the board can only ask a limited number of them to each candidate due to time constraint. “I think we can give them five or six diverse questions,” said Irving. “We don’t have to ask everything.”
Although how to qualify candidates ate up a quarter of the 40-minute meeting, board members spent a great deal of time discussing whether the process should be transparent and open to the public or secret and behind closed doors.
“Interview has to be done in public,” said Kerr.
“No it doesn’t,” chimed in Chrystal Cleaves.
“We have options,” said Irving.
Irving stated the board must consult with the district’s attorney before deciding whether to hold interviews in executive sessions, behind closed door, or in open forum, open to the public. Wendy Guzman, who came on the board through an appointment in 2007, added, “I came in through an executive session.”
Kerr refuted the statement that a dubious executive session brought Guzman to the board. “I was there, everybody was interviewed in public, but the candidates: so if you were a candidate you had to leave the area,” refuted Kerr. “But, the process was done in public.”
Guzman said when the board conducted her interview in John F. Kennedy High School it was behind closed doors. “There was nobody else there but the board members,” stated Guzman.
The board seems to want to protect the candidates from mortification by holding most of the process behind a veil of secrecy save when actually making an appointment.
“If you’re big enough to put your resume out there, you’re big enough to be asked questions in front of people,” said Irving. The president wants to conduct the interview openly, but deliberate behind closed doors.
“I would want to deliberate in executive session,” said Irving. Martinez agreed with Irving. “Let’s conduct the interview and pose the questions publicly, and then come back deliberate in executive session, then come back to the public,” said Martinez.
Jonathan Hodges and Alex Mendez did not attend the committee of whole meeting. Mendez will abstain from taking part in the process, said Irving.
Kenneth Simmons whose step-daughter, Monet Kendall, a school counselor, is among the candidates, said, “I’m abstaining from the process.”
Candidates include: Daniel Vergara, former school board member; Khader “Ken” Abuassab, an Arab community leader; Nelly Celi, community manager at the Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey; Joel Ramirez, a college admissions officer; Escha Bates, a police dispatcher; Oshin Castillo, a bank teller; Lilisa Mimms, a pastor; Mohammad Ramadan, a college student; Flavio Rivera, an auditor; and Taj Uddin, a grocery store owner.
Besides glancing at the resumes, board members did not make specific comments about the candidates. Comments are likely to be reserved for June 30th, 2014 meeting, during which candidates will be questioned before one of the eleven is appointed to the board of education.
Updated 12 p.m. June 27th, 2014.