legal_mailbag_transparentOriginally appeared in the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

I admit to being a bit of a neat freak, and I am now wondering whether my idiosyncrasy has gotten me in trouble. Last month, I was walking through our gymnasium and saw a bunch of mats in the corner, and the physical education teacher told me that they were extra because we replaced them with new cushier mats. Similarly, I noticed a number of chairs in our “cafetorium” that the custodians tell me they never use. I figured that this old stuff wasn’t doing anyone any good, and I gave the mats and the chairs to the PTO, which promptly sold them on eBay.

The PTO used a memorabilia angle to sell them, featuring the name of my school prominently in the posting – “Buy a piece of history . . . .” etc. Unfortunately, that got a few nosy people curious, and they called up the superintendent to ask him when the board authorized the sale of school property. The superintendent in turn called me up to ask what I thought I was doing. I thought that I was just tidying up, but he didn’t see it that way. Is he overreacting or should I dust off my resume?

A Little OCD

Dear OCD:

I don’t think that your mistake warrants serious discipline, but you did overstep. You may be the principal of your school, but you do not own the property placed there for school use. Accordingly, you were not authorized to give away the mats and chairs (and whatever else offends your aesthetic sensibilities). Indeed, not even the board can authorize the disposition of the property.

The statutes provide that every town is a school district. The statutes further provide that the affairs of the school district are under the control of the board of education. Such control includes control over property used for school purposes. Significantly, however, such control does not include ownership, which remains with the town. Thus, when property is no longer needed for school purposes (whether it is a crummy old mat or an entire school building), the board of education relinquishes control of the property back to the town. In turn, the town can either authorize school officials to dispose of the property (often pursuant to established procedures), or it can take back control over the property for its use or disposition.

Regional school districts are different. They own the property used for school purposes, and thus have the authority to dispose of such property as they see fit. However, a school principal never has the authority unilaterally to dispose of school property, no matter where you work, and a gracious apology on your part is in order.

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