The Nutmeg Board of Education wanted to get a jump on planning new security measures for the Nutmeg Public Schools. Accordingly, last month it named itself the School Security Committee, and it held a number of meetings to plan improvements in the security of each of its schools. The Board invited the Chief of Police and the Town Manager into the executive sessions, given their expertise. However, despite his repeated requests to be included, Mr. Chairperson chose not to include Seymour Dollars, venerable chair of the Nutmeg Board of Finance. Seymour was miffed at what he saw as the Board’s disrespect, and in an angry email to Mr. Chairperson, Seymour vowed to object to any action the Board took on security measures without his input.
After several long executive session discussions, the Board finally met in open session last week, and with little public discussion it voted to place an armed security guard in each of its schools. After hearing about the Board’s action, Seymour promptly convened a meeting of the Nutmeg Board of Finance. After its own lengthy executive session, the Board of Finance reconvened in open session, and it voted to recommend that the Board of Education rescind its action and install video cameras at far less cost than hiring armed guards. Seymour explained, “Video cameras will discourage trouble-makers, and they do not require health insurance benefits. The Board of Education should listen to us.”
Bob Bombast, veteran member of the Nutmeg Board of Education, got angry over Seymour’s presuming to advise the Board on security matters. He promptly called Nancy Newshound, ace reporter for the Nutmeg Bugle, to give his side of the story. Nancy interrupted Bob and asked him how the Board could justify discussing such matters in executive session, given the intense public interest in security matters. Bob conceded that perhaps the Board should have kept the discussion in open session. “But let’s not get off track. The Board of Education is responsible for school security, and Seymour should back off and mind his own business. You can quote me on that.”
Nancy did just that, and she started a war. Bob’s comments incensed Seymour, and he too called Nancy. “The Board of Education had better get with the program. The Town holds the purse strings, and we will not be appropriating money to squander it on salaries and benefits unless the Board explains its thinking to us in writing and convinces us. And good luck with that.”
Should the Nutmeg Board provide a written response to the Board of Finance?
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Next year boards of education will have to provide written explanation to the appropriating authority under certain circumstances. Public Act 13-60 requires boards of finance (or other appropriating authorities) reviewing the itemized budget estimate of the board of education to “make spending recommendations and suggestions to such board of education as to how such board of education may consolidate noneducational services and realize financial efficiencies” within ten days of receiving the itemized budget estimate. The board of education may accept or reject such recommendations, but if it rejects them, it must explain in writing its reasons for rejecting the suggestions. Depending on what suggestions the Town would make here, however, it is not clear that Seymour’s idea would be a proposed “consolidation” that triggers this duty.
There are two other new provisions of note regarding board of education financial matters. Public Act 13-60 also now requires that the board of education provide the legislative body of the town or city with a written explanation if and when an authorized agent makes line item transfers on an emergency basis, as provided in Section 10-222. In addition, and more problematic, is the requirement that each board of education must now annually make available on its Internet website the aggregate spending on a number of specified different items for each of its schools. P.A. 13-247, Section 192. Given the term “aggregate” and that some of these expenses are not budgeted or tracked on a school-by-school basis, it is not clear how school districts will be able to comply with this requirement.
This situation raises other issues as well. The Nutmeg Board of Education jumped the gun in naming itself a School Safety Committee. The comprehensive gun control legislation passed this year, Public Act 13-3, imposes new responsibilities regarding school safety and security. While a comprehensive review is beyond our scope here, the legislation is specific in requiring that boards of education establish a school safety and security at each of its schools by July 1, 2014. Moreover, it prescribes the membership of such committees to include a police officer, first responder, mental health professional, teacher and administrator. Such committees will be responsible for assisting in the development and annual updating of the school security and safety plan that will be required for each school (and which must be submitted annually to the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection).
We note that both the Board of Education and the Board of Finance discussed security issues in executive session. As to the Board of Education, that discussion was appropriate. Executive session discussion is permitted concerning the deployment of security devices and personnel. Moreover, in convening such an executive session, the Board of Education can decide whom to invite into the executive session, based on whose “opinion or testimony” it wishes to hear. However, it is doubtful that the Board of Finance can also properly discuss such matters in executive session, given that the Board of Finance is not responsible for such decisions.
There is another basis for executive session, at least for the Board of Education. Boards of education may discuss information set forth in confidential documents. Section 1-210(b)(19) provides that records are confidential if their disclosure would result in a security risk (as presumably would be the case with most school safety and security plans). However, that determination is not left to the school district, but rather must be made by the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
Finally, the Board’s plan to employ armed security guards at each school is subject to an important limitation. P.A. 13-188 limits the employment of security personnel who will possess a firearm to fulfill their job duties to sworn members of the local police department or retired police officers. Any such retired police officers are required to receive annual training and must complete annual firearms training that meets the standards of the Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council.