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Decision No. 13,373

Appeal of LAWRENCE BEAN from action of the Board of Education of the Rush-Henrietta Central School District regarding contingency budget expenses.

Decision No. 13,373

(March 15, 1995)

Fitzsimmons, Des Marteau, Beale and Nunn, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, George Des Marteau, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioner seeks a determination regarding respondent's proposed expenditure of school district funds while on a contingency budget. The appeal must be dismissed.

On October 25, 1994, respondent approved a field trip of its eighth grade students to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1995. Respondent has authorized the payment of salaries for the teachers accompanying the students on this field trip, as well as the salaries of any substitute teachers necessary to cover the classes of teachers absent as a result of the trip. All other expenses shall be met without the use of district funds by monies raised through independent fund-raising activities and contributions. Petitioner challenges respondent's authority to pay such expenses while operating under a contingency budget.

Education Law, '2023 authorizes a board of education to adopt what has come to be called an "ordinary contingency" budget. The statute provides:

If the qualified voters shall neglect or refuse to vote the sum estimated necessary for teachers' salaries, after applying thereto the public school moneys, and other moneys received or to be received for that purpose, or if they shall neglect or refuse to vote the sum estimated necessary for ordinary contingent expenses, the sole trustee, board of trustees, or board of education may levy a tax for the same, in like manner as if the same had been voted by the qualified voters.

The responsibility for determining what items constitute "ordinary contingent expenses" lies in the first instance with the board of education. When an appeal is brought pursuant to Education Law '310 to review such a determination, the general rule is:

. . . an expense may be considered contingent if it is a legal obligation; if it is specifically authorized by statute; or if it is necessary to maintain the educational program, preserve property or assure the health and safety of the students or staff (Formal Op of Couns No. 213, 7 Ed Dept Rep 153).

While general expenses associated with field trips are not ordinary contingent expenses (Appeal of Hebel, 34 Ed Dept Rep 319; Matter of North Syracuse CSD, 21 id. 221), the expenses challenged by petitioner in this case are exclusively teachers' salaries. Pursuant to Education Law '2023, a board of education is authorized to expend funds for teachers' salaries while operating under a contingency budget (Appeal of Farrell, 30 Ed Dept Rep 81; Matter of Moore, 18 id. 375; Matter of Ughetto and Brown, 12 id. 162). Accordingly, respondent did not act improperly by approving the expenditures of funds for teachers' salaries in connection with the trip.