September 18, 2019
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Student fees used to buy iPads for guidance counselors

HOLLIS, N.H. — The guidance counselors at Hollis/Brookline High School received iPads this fall, technology that Principal Cindy Matte said gives them instant access to student records and other information, no matter where they are working within the building.
But the school board wants to know why it wasn’t consulted before the school made the purchase, especially since fees charged to students for copies of their transcripts were used to pay for the iPads.
“There’s a double concern,” said Janice Tremblay, chairwoman of the school board, asserting that Matte should have consulted the board first.
In the past, the $2,800 spent for five iPads, including shipping fees, might not have made it onto the school board’s agenda.
In the future, as a result of an auditor’s recommendation and pressure from taxpayers, the principal may be required to get the board’s permission to spend any money derived from student-generated revenue.
Matte said guidance staff, the only members of the teacher’s union who needed laptops, but didn’t get them, spent the summer deciding whether to ask for iPads or laptops, and decided after school started to go with the iPads.
“In the past, nobody would have blinked an eye,” Matte said, explaining how funds generated from fees for transcripts, and other student expenses have been used for student benefit, at the principal’s discretion.
That practice is likely to change next year, based on an auditor’s recommendation to separate “government” and “agency” accounts in the school district.
Government accounts are line items in the school budget financed through the school district’s operating budget; agency accounts are funded by student fees for clubs, travel, sports, and other activities.
The issue has highlighted the gap between common practice and the school board’s understanding of it.
For example, School Board member Tom Solon, unaware that the iPads had already been purchased, suggested on Wednesday night that officials consider purchasing a less expensive, “Windows-based” product.
“Nobody knew about it,” said Tremblay of the purchase.
Some residents, including John Anderson, a regular at the monthly school board meetings and an active member of the local taxpayers’ group, have been raising concerns in recent months, citing a lack of oversight, and the potential for misuse of funds.
“It’s so much more than just iPads,” Anderson said Thursday, the day after the school board meeting. “This is huge because we’re talking about so much money that’s not being used for what it’s supposed to be used for.”
On Wednesday night, school board member Bill Beauregard wanted to know if the high school guidance department was making a profit on student transcript fees, used to purchase the iPads.
“I’m very upset about this,” Beauregard said.
Matte, the high school principal, informed the associate superintendent, Betsey Cox-Buteau, about the purchase in an Oct. 23 memo.
The principal said she consulted with Rich Raymond, the district’s network administrator, and concluded that the iPads would not “represent an increased load to the tech staff” at the high school.
Matte also stressed that the technology would afford guidance counselors greater efficiency and confidentiality.
But the principal also noted that “in the near future,” the transcript fees would be removed from the student activities fund and transferred to the school district.
“Past practice has been that the Principal, in conjunction with the Guidance Director utilize these funds to meet the needs of the Guidance Department,” Matte wrote.
According to Tremblay, the School Board chairman, three warrant articles the school board plans to present to voters in March could change the way money from student and district funds is spent.
Tremblay said one article will ask voters to approve establishing a new fund, based on state law. A second will propose closing the current fund. And a third would transfer balances from the old fund to the new one, she said.
“According to the RSA, the school board is responsible for the final say on purchases,” Tremblay said. “From my perspective, as board chairman, I’m disappointed to learn that [the iPads] were purchased without being brought to the board.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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