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Decision No. 12,860

Appeal of LANDON HALL and BRUCE COOPER, on behalf of Amanda Hall and Kelly Cooper, from action of the Board of Education of the Byron-Bergen Central School District regarding extraclassroom activity funds.

Decision No. 12,860

(December 23, 1992)

Burns & Head, Esqs., attorneys for petitioners, Colleen Sutherland Head, Esq., of counsel

Harris, Beach & Wilcox, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, James A. Spitz, Jr., and Elizabeth A. Gryczka, Esqs., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal from a refusal by the respondent Board of Education of the Byron-Bergen Central School District to reimburse certain extraclassroom activity funds expended during the 1988-1989 school year from the treasury of the class of 1996, which was then in the fifth grade. The appeal must be dismissed.

Respondent is a central school district which is subject to the regulations governing extraclassroom activity funds (8 NYCRR Part 172). It appears from the record that for many years, students in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades at respondent's elementary school engaged in annual fundraising projects. It further appears that a single sixth grade student was selected each year to act as "activity treasurer" for all three classes simultaneously. The treasurer was selected by the elementary school's sixth grade teachers and was not elected by any of the students.

Petitioners have attached various pages from a "Policy Manual" which apparently has been adopted by respondent board under date of February 23, 1989. Although the parties dispute to some extent the applicability of some portions of these exhibits, it appears that '6.3, entitled "Financial Policy-Extraclassroom Activities" of the Policy Manual has been adopted in response to 8 NYCRR '172.2. Petitioners claim that certain expenditures made from the extraclassroom activity funds of the class of 1996 were made in violation of respondent's own rules.

On May 22, 1989, a check in the amount of $725.00 was issued to James Getty, an actor who presented a program as an impersonator of Abraham Lincoln. The program was presented on September 29, 1989, to both the fifth grade class and to the junior-senior high school. On February 10, 1989, a check in the amount of $700.00 was issued to Empire Trailways, Inc., and on April 4, 1989, another check in the amount of $600.00 was issued to Empire Trailways, Inc. The first ($700.00) check was for transportation to and from the Cummings Nature Center in Naples; the second ($600.00) check was for transportation to the "Jason Project" at a Science Center in Rochester. During the month of June 1989, three additional separate checks totalling $818.62 were issued to vendors for the purchase of a television, a videocassette recorder, a stand, and an electronic sign, all of which were purportedly given as gifts to the school district. Finally, at some unspecified time, the sum of $269.83 was debited to the class's account fund to compensate for "bad checks" received during the course of fundraising activities.

Petitioners claim that these expenditures were improper for several reasons. In addition to complaints about technical errors and deficiencies in the manner in which disbursing orders were signed, the lack of certain allegedly required signatures, and the manner of selection of the "activity treasurer," petitioners also question the propriety and fairness of charging class funds for these various expenditures.

Respondent generally denies any wrongdoing and sets forth numerous affirmative defenses, including untimeliness. Because this appeal must be dismissed on grounds of untimeliness, it is not necessary to go into respondent's other defenses in any detail.

It is unclear from the record when this controversy first arose, but the superintendent states in his affidavit that several parents of students in the class of 1996 first contacted him in June 1990, and expressed their concern that some extracurricular expenses had been improperly charged to the fifth grade students during the previous school year. The superintendent scheduled a meeting of parents and certain teachers who had been involved in the fundraising activities of the previous year. A committee was formed to look into these concerns and members of that committee attended the board of education's meeting on August 23, 1990. The committee apparently recommended that the class treasury be reimbursed for some, but not all, of the expenditures. The minutes of the board meeting indicate that the board considered the proposal, but took no definitive action. The reimbursement question was scheduled for further discussion at the September 27, 1990 board meeting, but it appears that no such discussion took place because the elementary school principal and certain board members could not attend.

On October 19, 1990, the superintendent advised committee members that the board would consider the reimbursement issue in executive session prior to its next board meeting on October 25. The minutes of the October 25 board meeting indicate that the board entered an executive session with committee members at approximately 6:30 p.m. and returned to public session about 7:30 p.m. The minutes further indicate that upon returning to public session the board moved to accept a "proposed position paper" which respondent has annexed to the affidavit of the superintendent. In pertinent part, the position paper contains the following language:

In regard to the issue of reimbursement of funds to the present seventh grade, it is the opinion of the entire Board that such a step would be inappropriate. The decisions to expend money for the items listed on the report were made in the same way such determinations have been made for many years. Since our present policy lacks any guidelines for this process, we feel that we cannot be critical of those involved with the decision.

The minutes of the board meeting indicate that the committee members registered their disagreement with this position paper. The minutes also indicate that a copy of the position paper was to be filed with the minutes of the meeting. Although the minutes also contained language that the various parties would try to agree on a factual article to be published in the district's newsletter, I am satisfied that the board made a final decision not to reimburse these funds at its October 25, 1990 meeting.

After the October 25 board meeting petitioners and others continued to press for reimbursement of class funds. A series of letters passed back and forth from the committee members to the superintendent, and committee members made further appearances before the board of education at its April 11, April 25, and May 9, 1991 meetings. The April 25 agenda contains an entry under old business for "reconsideration of requests for reimbursement." The minutes of the May 9, 1991 board meeting contain the following statement: "It was moved by M. Dewey and seconded by G. Grefrath to reaffirm the decision of October 25, 1990 that the Board not reimburse the class of 1996 for the items requested by the parents group." The minutes further indicate that this motion was unanimously carried.

In view of the foregoing, I am constrained to find that the appeal is untimely. Although petitioners and others continued to work for reimbursement, it cannot be said that they were not informed of the board's position against reimbursement on October 25, 1990. Once a final determination has been made, efforts to gain a reconsideration or reversal of that decision do not extend the time in which an appeal must be taken. Appeal of Zeff, 29 Ed Dept Rep 5; Appeal of Vachon, 28 id. 276; Appeal of McIntyre, 25 id. 156; Matter of Tripi, 21 id. 349. I am not unmindful of certain language used by the superintendent in correspondence dated April 1, 1991, which could give the suggestion that the reimbursement issue was still open, but I am satisfied based on the evidence that such was not the case.

Although I am unable to consider the petition on the merits, the questions raised deserve discussion. Petitioners claim that the adjustments to the fifth grade account for "bad checks" were unauthorized, but I am satisfied that these adjustments are adequately explained and are attributable only to the class of 1996. In reality these are not expenditures, but are merely reversals of amounts originally credited to the account which later proved to be uncollectible.

Petitioners have raised numerous objections to the manner in which the student activity treasurer was selected, the failure to obtain certain signatures on disbursing orders, and the level of awareness of the student treasurer. Respondent has gone so far as to claim that certain aspects of the policy manual do not apply to the elementary school. While I find that there was some technical sloppiness involved, I do not find any wrongdoing. In addition, if the language of policy manual '6.3 does not fit the organizational structure of the elementary school, it should be changed.

I am more concerned about respondent's failure to discuss policy manual '7.3.1, which deals with student field trips. Section 7.3.1(A) defines curricular field trips as "those trips which are initiated by subject-area teachers for the purpose of enhancing a specific area of the curriculum." It is further provided that the board of education will each year "provide for each school a budgetary figure to finance both the transportation and, if necessary, admission fees for approved curricular field trips." Section 7.3.1(B) distinguishes "organizational field trips" as "those trips initiated by an advisor of an extracurricular activity." It would seem quite clear from the record that the trips made by the fifth grade to the Cummings Nature Center and the Jason Project were both "curricular field trips," yet the class treasury was charged for them. The affidavit of the elementary school principal indicates that the board has not provided funds for curricular field trips for the past twenty years. The policy manual does not preclude the use of class funds for curricular field trips, but gives the impression that they will be funded by the district itself. Respondent makes no claim that '7.3 is inapplicable to the elementary school. If, indeed, the board does not fund curricular field trips, the policy manual should be amended to reflect that policy.

I am further concerned by the class gift of $818.62 of electronic equipment by the fifth graders to the school district. The equipment purchased is the type of equipment that one would expect the school district itself to purchase if it is needed. Petitioners allege, and respondent admits, that these expenses were proposed by the school, not by the children. Petitioners allege, and respondent admits, that there were no alternative proposals presented at the time, nor was the equipment to be used solely by the class. Although respondent claims that no student objected to the suggestion, it must be recalled that these are ten and eleven year old children; nor does respondent claim that the class voted to make this expenditure of its funds. Although respondent cites several examples of prior purchases by fifth and sixth grade classes, the propriety of using the funds collected by elementary school students to make equipment purchases for the district raises serious questions which are not adequately addressed by the policy adopted by the board on October 25, 1990. I suggest that more parental involvement be encouraged in this area and that the board reconsider its policy.

With respect to the hiring of Mr. Getty, while not a "curricular field trip" in the sense used in the policy manual, this too was of a curricular nature. While nothing would seem to preclude the use of class funds for this purpose, and while respondent cites prior similar examples, it may have been better for the school district itself to have funded this educational experience, especially since it was also made available to the junior-senior high school students.

Finally, although not directly raised by petitioners, respondent's own auditor's report raises the question that the board's policy manual does not provide for periodic financial reports to the board of education as required by 8 NYCRR '172.3(b). It is suggested that respondent remedy that shortcoming, in accordance with the report dated February 8, 1990.