The Board of Finance agreed to let the Board of Selectmen take legal action if necessary on a proposal to make structural changes to the governance of the Region 1 school district.
During a recent meeting, finance board member Louis G. Timolat asked that the selectmen be given the discretion and flexibility to incur legal fees if a proposal being considered is approved. The Region 1 Board of Education and the All Board Chair Committee, on advice of their attorney Gary Brochu, are recommending that a joint employment agreement between the district and the superintendent be signed to comply with state statutes.
They also are seeking to have the procedure for how the superintendent is paid be equally divided among the region’s seven school boards rather than the current proportional basis determined by student enrollment. That suggestion came from Ned Gow, Canaan’s representative to the Region 1 board, who said such an arrangement would help save that town money. Canaan currently pays the largest share.
Timolat said he is uncertain whether the decision can be made by those two entities without unanimous town meeting approval from the six communities. He said Region 1, created under a special act of the legislature in 1939, would be substantially changed if these measures were adopted. Altering the way the superintendent is paid would be contrary to how it’s done when resources are provided to groups of people. Normally that’s on a percapita basis.
He described the proposed initiatives “inappropriate and harmful to our interests.”
He’s hired his own attorney, who has said that if an attempt is made to put these actions into play, it would be necessary to file a civil complaint in opposition. While he said he hopes they won’t have to pursue the matter legally, it’s bad practice to wait until something happens before beginning preparations.
FIRST SELECTMAN PATRICIA A. MECHARE said she and Timolat have done extensive research on the matter.
“What is being suggested might even affect the local elementary schools, with one attorney referring to the proposal as ‘creeping regionalization.’ We need to be thinking about this,” she said. “It may never happen, but if it does happen, the Board of Selectmen has to have the flexibility to be ready to go to court to get an injunction.”
Mechare said sometimes Falls Village is criticized for being outspoken on issues.
“But our feeling is we try to keep ourselves informed with what is going on,” she said. “If we see things we don’t think are right, we are going to question them and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
There is currently $6,000 in a line item for litigation in the town’s budget, which will be put toward court action if needed.
Mechare said at a recent meeting it was announced the process would take a long time. She noted the Region 1 board is still in charge and that the ABC Committee is advisory only.
It has no power to act, has no budget and no power to spend money unless the school board gives it “those advantages.”
Mechare encouraged the finance board members to take the matter seriously.
“We think what the region’s attorney has put forth so far regarding this matter is very faulty in terms of his arguments,” she said. “We have researched this with our attorney and another attorney, and feel we’re on firm ground.”
FINANCE BOARD MEMBER KENT ALLYN strongly favored the idea, noting that if the one-seventh proposal passes, Falls Village would end up paying $14,000 more for the superintendent’s salary. He said if they’re against the recommendation, it’s money well-spent.
“Somebody needs to stand up and say you’re not doing things correctly,” Allyn said. “You need to go back to first base.”
Alternate Henry Todd said, “It’s really important to prevent precedent from being set. I agree with taking any action proactively rather than after the fact. It can get out of control if we’re not ready to react.”
See video of Falls Village BOF meeting