Published Date Written by Barbara TetreaultBERLIN – A lengthy discussion on proposed guidelines for so-called principal accounts ended with no decision at Thursday night’s school board meeting.
The issue had initially been on the agenda for the July 19 meeting but had been placed on hold to allow all the school administrators to be present. Until the board could review the issue, it decided to require all expenditures be pre-approved by Superintendent Corinne Cascadden.
As part of their student activities accounts, both the high school and junior high have separate principal accounts that are controlled by the building principals. Money for the principal accounts is generated from vending machines, coffee sales, and staff donations. None of the money comes from the general fund or taxpayer accounts.
In both schools, money from the principal account is used to cover items that come up during the school year and are not covered in the school budget. Examples include special student awards, t-shirts for a math team competition, money to help a student compete in a national welding competition, and flowers for eighth grade promotion night.
But the high school principal account has also been used to buy retirements gifts for teachers and staff and to send flowers in cases of sickness or a death in the family.
Business Administrator Bryan Lamirande said he raised the issue after receiving a voucher for $575 from the high school principal account to pay for a painting given as a retirement present. Lamirande said he discovered another $700 voucher for a camera was also a retirement gift.
Lamirande questioned using the money for gifts for individual staff members. He said he feels all the money should be used for student activities.
“It should go to the students,” he said.
Lamirande said at the very least there should be a structure in place that guarantees all staff members are treated the same and guidelines set for how much money can be spent on a gift. Lamirande said he thought the painting and camera were too costly. He noted the school system provides severance pay for teachers with ten years or more of service.
Lamirande drew up a draft policy for the board to review that banned using the principal accounts for individual staff gifts and requiring preapproval of the superintendent for any expenditure over $500.
High School Principal Gary Bisson said the system has been in effect since long before he became principal. He cited several examples where he has used the fund for unexpected student needs and even scholarships.
Bisson said since some of the money is generated exclusively from the staff, the practice has been to pay for staff retirement gifts and bereavement flowers out of the account. He said using the fund for such purposes avoids teachers and staff members having to spend time collecting money. He said since retirements are few, most of the money is spent on students. Lamirande, and Cascadden agreed that the majority of the money in the high school principal account is spent on students.
Bisson said all of the expenditures go through the central office and the account is audited. Last year, Lamirande said the fund received $8,026 and spent $7,800.
Assistant Principal Tim Forrestal said without the fund for retirements and flowers, teachers would have one more demand on their time. He spoke about how much he appreciated the flowers sent by the school when his family members passed away.
School Board member Kenneth Proulx said the principal account has not been an issue in the past and questioned why the subject was being brought up.
Lamirande said in the system’s other schools, staff members collect money for retirement gifts or flowers. There is no principal fund to cover such expenditures.
Board Chair Nicole Plourde said she wanted a policy that was equitable to all. She said she thought a $500 retirement gift was excessive and wanted to see guidelines in place. Board member Donald Labrecque said he thought each case was different, noting staff members retire with various years of services to the district.
Brown School Principal Amy Huter said the only way to make the system equitable is to eliminate the principal accounts.
Board member Louise Valliere said she trusted the principals to handle the accounts. She suggested expenditures over $500 require the approval of the superintendent.
Labrecque said he would like more time to study the matter and moved to table the issue until the next meeting. But his motion failed to get a second.
Proulx then made a motion to stay with the original arrangement. With board member Nathan Morin absent, the board deadlocked - Proulx and Valliere voting in favor and Plourde and Labrecque against. Plourde ruled the board would have to take up the matter again when a full board was present.
In other business:
· The school board will ask the city council to consider purchasing an undeveloped parcel at the very end of Jasper Street. The owner of the property has indicated a willingness to sell it to the school district. Superintendent Corrine Cascadden said the district has long-range plans to house the school buses and a biomass boiler behind the high school. She said the Jasper Street property would improve access to the area behind the school. The board, however, was not interested in purchasing property at 228 Willard Street that was offered to the city.
· The board discussed developing a back-up plan to handle an influx of new students because of the federal prison. The major concern is space for elementary students. School officials said right now enrollment for the 2012-2013 school year is the same as the 2011-2012 school year. But with hiring for the federal prison still on going, Cascadden said she wanted to have a plan in case there develops a need for extra classroom space. She noted a new school is not an option. The board discussed possible school configurations, such as having grades six through 12 at the high school or moving kindergarten to the high school. The administrative staff will develop a list of schools with different configurations that the board can visit.
· The board approved a tentative labor agreement with Local 1444, representing custodians and bus drivers. The agreement will be presented to the city council, which must approve the cost items.