At its first meeting of calendar year 2020, Cherry Hill’s Board of Education welcomed members both new and old, and also yielded changes in key decision-making positions thanks to a pair of deadlocked votes that produced anxious moments for district personnel.
Taking the oath of office after having won a fresh three-year term in November were Rosy Arroyo and Kim Friddell, along with Ruth Schultz, who ran for, and won, an unexpired two-year term.
Ben Ovadia, also elected to a new three-year term, was not in attendance. His was an absence that proved crucial to later proceedings as only eight members were present to decide who would occupy the board’s two top spots.
In spite of board stalwart Carol Matlack’s motion to support Eric Goodwin for a second year as board president, board member Sally Tong countered with a nomination of board vice president Lisa Saidel for the presidency. In a subsequent vote, Goodwin was defeated 5 to 3, while Saidel was elevated to the head slot by a unanimous vote.
“This last year, serving as board president, was definitely an honor for me, and I really enjoyed that opportunity to serve the community,” said Goodwin. “I am disappointed that I’m not going to be serving a second term.”
Goodwin departed the presidency having weathered a rough 2019, including the defeat of a $210 million bond referendum and the fallout from a school lunch payment policy that received public scorn locally and nationally.
Saidel, who was named board VP last January when Goodwin was named president, played a key role in breaking a pair of stalemates for her old position. After Matlack advocated for Schultz and Tong countered by suggesting Laurie Neary as the candidate, a pair of votes ended in 4-4 draws.
When asked by Saidel what the board’s choices were going forward, Board Solicitor Paul Green created some tension in the room with his answer. He stated the night of the meeting would be the only time when a decision could be made. If not, the Camden County Superintendent would be called upon to make a ruling.
“There are no legal parameters for guidance; it’s at the county superintendent’s discretion. Usually the county superintendent will ask how much experience the two members have, but beyond that, we really don’t know what (he) will do,” Green said.
“I would expect and hope that it would be a choice between the two who are nominated.”
Saidel expressed concern about how steep a learning curve it was for her as a new board member and suggested that leaving a decision in the hands of an outside arbiter would open up the possibility of an inexperienced board member in a position for which he or she may not be fully prepared.
Arroyo appeared to support sending the decision up the chain by noting that any one of the nine-member board could make a great vice president, “inexperience or not.”
“I hate that this is so divided,” Saidel acknowledged. “That’s what I’m most uncomfortable about. Any one of us has the ability to do something about that in the next round of this vote. Is that what everybody wants?
“I personally would rather sit here for a while and keep discussing until somebody feels comfortable voting a different way.”
The board then engaged in a third round of voting. While the count on Schultz’ nomination was tied once more, Neary was eventually confirmed by a 6-2 margin.
Neary, who was first elected to the board in November 2018, had previously spent time as Vice President of Cherry Hill Special Education PTA (CHSEPTA).
“I am 100 percent behind Mrs. Saidel, 100 percent behind Mrs. Neary and 100 percent behind the children of Cherry Hill,” Goodwin offered. “As a board, I hope we can be totally unified in that our one desire is that we have the best district for our children, for our staff and for our community that we can be proud of.”
In other news:
- With the addition of Arroyo and Friddell, the board is comprised of seven women and two men.
- Matlack was reappointed as the district representative to the Camden County School Board Executive Committee; Schultz was nominated for, and accepted, the post of district rep to the New Jersey School Boards Association; Saidel, the new board president, announced she was stepping down from her post as district rep to the Camden County Educational Services Commission. Goodwin was appointed to the position.