ESSEX-DEEP RIVER-CHESTER — Hope for a fresh start was evident at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Region 4 Board of Education, after months of tense meetings and board turmoil, beginning with the announcement of an interim business manager, Richard Hewitt, replacing Kimberly Allen, who resigned from the post in November.
“Mr. Richard Hewitt will support us through our day to day operations and budget season. Meanwhile, we are going to be talking more about what a process should look like for hiring the next business manager, or what that position should even look like. Is it a business manager role we need at all?” said Superintendent Brian White.
The board will also consider curtailing the responsibilities of the regional district’s treasurer, an elected role “responsible for the accounting of the receipts and expenditures of the General Funds and other funds,” according to board of education bylaws.
Currently, the treasurer is also tasked with co-signing all Region 4 checks, providing and presenting monthly financial statements, making recommendations for invoices that should be paid, and presenting an audit at the end of each year — responsibilities which significantly overlap with the job description of a business manager, a position paid for by the district.
“Nobody with a full-time job would be able to do this role and certainly the previous treasurer never fulfilled it,” said DG Fitton who was elected treasurer at the November board meeting. “Apparently I’m the first person elected treasurer to actually read the bylaws.”
The bylaw was last updated in 1996, when the board was transitioning between business managers.
“The board that was in place then wanted to make sure there was enough oversight. You as the board are responsible to the taxpayers. If you delegate to the administrators, you need to take responsibility for what the administrators are doing,” warned Chester resident Julie Anne Divis at Tuesday’s meeting. “This board has a lot to account for over the past quarter of a century, abdicating responsibilities is not where we want to be headed.”
In the case of town boards of education, which in Essex, Deep River and Chester oversee separate kindergarten through 6th grade programs, the town treasurer assumes the role and co-signs payments.
White presented revised bylaws, drafted by the district’s lawyers, Shipman and Goodwin, that would delegate many of the district treasurer’s responsibilities to the district business office and its four full-time employees.
“By giving up that responsibility we are not overseeing the budget like we should,” said board member Rick Daniels. “The people elected by the people should be doing this.”
According to White, the revised bylaws were based on rules governing other regional districts. However, as board member John Stack pointed out at Tuesday night’s meeting, compared to bylaws governing neighboring Lyme-Old Lyme schools, the Shipman and Goodwin draft was significantly less detailed. Stack said that Lyme-Old Lyme schools explicitly give the district treasurer all the responsibilities currently assigned to the Region 4 treasurer, but also allow the option of delegating responsibilities, or simply acting as a final check.
The board asked White to research bylaws in neighboring districts and to present them for review at the February meeting.
Resolving prior resident complaints
The board voted, to great applause, to put in place a policy detailing how the newly-established non-lapsing education fund will be used in Region 4. This vote put to rest a year-long debate on how funding was used to purchase the Mislick Property, and how it would be prevented in the future.
District administrators also sought to ‘right,’ a nearly four-year-old dispute regarding a possible Title IX violation — a controversy that began when Jim Carey, an Essex resident and father, approached former superintendent Ruth Levy concerning coaching of the girls rowing team.
Assistant Superintendent Kristina Martineau presented to the board a new approach to monitoring the spending and participation for girls and boys sports, as directed by State Department of Education Title IX Coordinator Adrian Wood.
Martineau said that this analysis so far shows that boys make up 52.8 percent of sports participation at Valley Regional High School and 49.6 percent of the total population, but the school offers 15 sports for boys and 18 for girls. As the year continues, Martineau said she would be reviewing the expenses for coaching, field use, transportation, officials, supplies, dues and fees, and repairs for girls and boys sports.
Martineau said that this semester she also plans to address donations made by booster clubs.
“We have not asked boosters in the past to provide us with expenditures. We don’t want to discourage the funds that parents so generously provide. They’re an important part of enhancing our activities,” Martineau said. “But, we need to start. We need to decide if boosters are donating an item, should it go through the board like all other donations.”
Martineau said that banquets and uniforms are potential areas of concern.
“If the boys are going to Saybrook Point and the girls are in the cafeteria, obviously that’s a problem. Also, if the boys are getting new uniforms every two years and all girls sports are on the five-year school cycle,” Martineau said.
The board asked Martineau to consider non-athletic extracurricular offerings as part of her analysis.
“I got involved four years ago because of this and it’s so great to see you are looking at it now,” said Carey at the end of Tuesday’s meeting.