Editor’s Note: Last week, The Townsman reported on news of the lease of 160 additional laptops for the School Department’s special education teachers, to the surprise of members of the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee and at least one School Committee member. This week, we further explore the implications and legality of that lease.
Who authorized the four-year lease of 160 additional laptop computers for the School Department in the final days of the last fiscal year and did the transaction violate state procurement or other laws?
Those questions and others remain as town officials continue to look into how the School Department used surplus funds from the fiscal 2013 budget to enter into a four-year lease for the laptops without a formal vote from any boards or committees,
The Finance Committee, the Board of Selectmen and at least one School Committee member have said they were surprised to learn that School Department had signed a four-year, $177,000 lease for the additional Apple MacBook Pro-13s.
But school officials say they did inform the chairmen of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee, even though neither of them remember the discussion.
Further, school leaders claim that members of the School Committee were told about the transaction, although no record of a vote seems to exist.
State procurement law requires any contract that extends beyond three years to be approved by the relevant, deliberative body — in this case either the School Committee or Board of Selectmen. Selectmen did not vote on the matter, according to Chairman Alex Vispoli.
Town finance officials say that because the purchase expanded on a Town Meeting-approved warrant article originally authorizing the lease of 400 laptops for the School Department’s teachers and staff, it was covered under the provisions of the state procurement law.
During a joint meeting of the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen earlier this month, the issue cropped up again, as members of both boards said the lease should be paid with school funds while Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski’s budget calls for the payment to come from the general fund.