The Guildhall School District: the treasurer's role

To the Editor:

Jim Jardine's Caledonian-Record article "Guildhall Tuition Controversy Snowballs" (2-28-12) seriously misrepresents the role of the Treasurer (myself) in the recent School District controversy. I have not "refused" to pay any bill authorized by the School Board. Like other Vermont municipal and school district treasurers, I do not have the power to make such refusals.

The Treasurer does, however, have the fiduciary obligation, when she or he is uncertain as to a bill's validity, legitimacy, or legality, to bring it before the full Board with a request for instruction. A review of the Guildhall School Board minutes over the last decade show numerous examples of Treasurers and Board Clerks having done so.

In this case, prior to the Board's regularly scheduled meetings, I did exactly that and asked the School District attorney and the Board, in writing, for clarification and instruction on two bills currently under legal dispute.

In response to my request, the school district attorney -- as reported in the recent meeting minutes -- advised the Board against paying a tuition bill currently in litigation -- due in part to conflict of interest problems. Although it may be foolish to do so, a school board is certainly free to ignore its own attorney's advice. In this case, the Board majority came very close to ignoring that advice and moved to pay the disputed amount. At the last moment, they withdrew that motion and therefore did not instruct me to make payment.

Probably the most important part of that meeting, however, came shortly afterward. The Board majority passed a motion to freeze all financial disbursements by a certain date. The Caledonian-Record article states -- in one place -- that the "the freeze will take effect March 2 if Wilson fails to pay the tuition amount." This is completely inaccurate. The actual motion, recorded in the minutes reads: "that if some arrangement to guarantee tuition to SAU 36 were not made by end of February vacation (March 2), all Guildhall checking would be frozen." In fact, the Treasurer does not have the authority to guarantee this (or any) payment. I simply have the authority to make payment when instructed by the School Board, and so far, they have chosen not to instruct me, on advice of their counsel.

It remains an open question as to whether the Board majority's drastic and unprecedented decision to freeze all expenditures -- in effect closing our school -- is enforceable. In the interests of keeping our school functioning, I will, together with the Board Chair and Supervisory Union, seek the answer to that question from legal counsel.

Laura Wilson

Guildhall School District Treasurer

Guildhall, Vt.

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