MEREDITH — The gift of a block of tickets to an upcoming Boston Red Sox game proved last night to be as hard to handle for the Inter-Lakes School Board as a Clay Buchholz curveball.
The school board discussed the gift at a meeting that also included talk of shifting athletic participation from baseball to track and field and the recently-passed warrant article that allows the district to hold in reserve a limited level of funds left unspent at the end of each budget cycle.
Superintendent Mary Ellen Ormond said the gift of the Red Sox tickets came from Inter-Lakes High School alumnus Scott Schoenbauer, son of longtime school board chair Carolyn Schoenbauer and grandson of Amy Brown, who served as school nurse. Schoenbauer, said Ormond is currently a Colorado resident who was recently in New England for a family reunion. During his trip, he presented to the high school a gift of 28 tickets to the May 9 game a Fenway Park, when the Red Sox will host the final game of a four-game series with the Minnesota Twins.
"It is a very generous donation, I can't thank Mr. Schoenbauer enough for this very thoughtful gift," said Ormond. However, she continued, she had a series of concerns regarding the gift. Because the tickets would be distributed through the district, the trip to Fenway would be considered a school-sponsored trip. Her questions included: How would students travel to and from the ballpark? Who would monitor the students? And who would be liable for their well-being? Some of the tickets might end up in the hands of staff members who would serve as chaperons, she supposed.
"These questions would need to be answered prior to us accepting this very generous donation," said Ormond.
Complicating the board's situation is the cancellation of the second board meeting in April, meaning that the board wouldn't meet again in time to accept the donation at a later date.
Board member Carol Baggaley said she wanted to ensure that the process of allocating the tickets would be fair. "Not subject to favoritism, all kids are equal in their ability to go."
Board member Howard Cunningham suggested, "One other alternative would be to turn the tickets into cash, and therefore support the athletic program." However, business administrator Trish Temperino cautioned that selling the donated tickets would be contrary to the intent of the gift, which could invalidate it. Even if the district could sell the tickets, proceeds would be treated as unanticipated revenue and deposited into the district's general fund, she added.
"I have strong reservations to selling the tickets to make a proft," said Baggaley. Referring to Schoenbauer and his gift, she said, "What a very nice thing for him to do."
"It is, I just need to figure out the details," said Ormond.
The board eventually voted unanimously to accept the gift on the condition that Ormond is able to address her concerns about the trip. Possibilities she suggested during the meeting included inviting interested high school students to enter a lottery for the tickets, allowing a certain number of staff to attend as chaperons, and offering Sandwich Central School principal Chris Hansen, who has a commercial driver's license, a ticket in exchange for him driving a school bus to Fenway.
"It's a very generous and appreciated gift, if we can figure out the details... it will benefit some kids," said Cunningham.
Earleir in the meeting, Ormond told the board that there remained wide confusion as to a recently-enacted state law that allows districts, if so authorized by voters, to retain as much as 2.5 percent of a given year's allocation if funds remained unspent at the end of a budget cycle. Inter-Lakes voters granted such authority at the district meeting in March, despite confusion between the district's lawyer and other interpreters of the law about whether that fund would be capped at 2.5 percent of a given year's allocation, or if it could accumulate, year over year, to not exceed 10 percent of the current year's allocation.
The state's Department of Revenue Administration hasn't helped clear the air, said Ormond.
"Our auditors have continued to say yes you can (grow the fund); our lawyers have continued to say no you can't; DRA continues to say, you better just keep it at 2.5 percent because it's going to be tested in the courts." She advised, "My recommendation to the board is, we follow DRA's wisdom... and we're very careful with how we move forward."
Cunningham noted that the board could, if it felt necessary, adopt a policy restricting the district's fund to no more than 2.5 percent of a given year's allocation. "What we want to do is avoid a public relations problem because of what's going on in Concord," he said.
One thing that is clearly growing at Inter-Lakes High School is the spring track and field team. With 71 students who signed up for the sport this spring, Ormond presented to the board a request from Athletic Director Jeff Cloos to allocate an additional $2,710 to the squad, funds which would allow for two additional coaches for that team.
The proposal won't cost taxpayers additional funds, however, because the dollars will be diverted from the stipends that would have been paid to junior varsity baseball coaches. Cloos, in his request, said that only 15 students signed up for baseball this year, all of whom will play on the varsity squad. Ormond said the baseball program is growing, however, and she and Cloos hope to have enough players next year for both a varsity and junior varsity team. The board approved the request.
"I see this as a practical solution. It's putting our dollars where are kids are," said Cunningham.