Danville’s Selectmen are now questioning the legality of operating Sandown Central in the coming academic year. (See yesterday’s post.) They will also have grounds to question a new “playing field” at Sandown North.
At the next school board meeting on June 18, the school board is likely going to vote to move forward with the creation of a new playing field for Sandown North.
You will recall that during the March election, the expansion of Sandown North’s playground was roundly defeated in all district towns. Two warrant articles to fund Sandown Central (Warrant Articles #4 and #11) were defeated by the district.
In light of these warrant article defeats, what is the legality of the school board voting to keep the school open and possibly using surplus money from this current year’s budget to fund an entirely new playing field at Sandown North?
When the question came up at Deliberative about what would happen if both warrant articles to fund Sandown Central were defeated, this is what the district’s attorney, Gordon Graham said unequivocally:
I am still awaiting replies to my Right to Know requests of the DRA, SAU, TRSD, the Department of Education and the Board of Education to find out what entity gave our SAU authority to keep the school open. Dr. Metzler assured the board that there was such authority. He says it is from the Department of Education, but the DOE does not have the authority to override a vote of the legislative body.(See RSA 32:11 below.)
The Danville Selectmen are demanding to see the legal authority by which the school can continue in operation, and so should we all. Sandown Central has to stay open because we clearly cannot function without two schools in Sandown but we also cannot allow the district to become completely lawless. Arthur Green and I sounded the alarm last year about failures by the district to abide by budget law to nothing but yawns. As I have learned the hard way, small infractions must be slapped down at the start or they lead to what we have now – something approaching chaos: boards and administrators pressed to defend themselves against lawsuits and challenges with a raft of lawyers and endless legal opinions, a town threatening to withhold money, another town seriously exploring getting out of the district. And the district has never been in better shape according to Danville’s Mr. Collins.
As you might expect, there is a statutory procedure for putting aside a vote of the people in order to make an unbudgeted expenditure (such as operating Sandown Central). RSA 32:11 requires a majority vote of the school budget committee and a petition to the Commissioner of Education.
MUNICIPAL BUDGET LAW
32:11 Emergency Expenditures and Overexpenditures. – When an unusual circumstance arises during the year which makes it necessary to expend money in excess of an appropriation which may result in an overexpenditure of the total amount appropriated for all purposes at the meeting or when no appropriation has been made, the selectmen or village district commissioners, upon application to the commissioner of revenue administration or the school board upon application to the commissioner of education, may be given authority to make such expenditure, provided that:
I. Such application shall be made prior to the making of such expenditure. No such authority shall be granted until a majority of the budget committee, if any, has approved the application in writing. If there is no budget committee, the governing body shall hold a public hearing on the request, with notice as provided in RSA 91-A:2.
II. The commissioner of revenue administration or the commissioner of education may accept and approve an application after an expenditure if caused by a sudden or unexpected emergency, in which case paragraph I shall not apply.
III. Neither the commissioner of revenue administration nor the commissioner of education shall approve such an expenditure unless the governing body designates the source of revenue to be used. Neither commissioner shall have the authority to increase the town or district’s tax rate in order to fund such an expenditure.
IV. When applying to the commissioner of education for such authority, the school board shall send a copy of such application to the department of revenue administration. The commissioner of education, when granting authority to the school board, shall notify, in writing, the commissioner of revenue administration of any and all authorizations given to school boards for emergency expenditures or overexpenditures, and the revenue source for funding such expenditures.
V. Notwithstanding paragraphs I through IV, if the legislative body has by warrant article established a contingency fund in the annual budget for the purpose of unanticipated expenses, the board of selectmen may expend funds from such account to meet the costs of such expenses.
Source. 1993, 332:1, eff. Aug. 28, 1993. 1996, 214:5, eff. Aug. 9, 1996. 1999, 140:1, eff. Aug. 24, 1999. 2013, 115:1, eff. Aug. 24, 2013.