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September 26, 2017

Procedures to be followed by school boards seeking to contract for expert consultant services


Procedures to be followed by school boards seeking to contract for expert consultant services
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,188

Among the several issues certain residents and taxpayers of the district [Applicants] raised in an appeal to the Commissioner of Education were challenges to the board’s adoption of a resolution provided for contracting with a consultant, Barbara J. Smith, on the recommendation of the district’s audit committee to serve as its external auditor to assist the district in coming into compliance with applicable State requirements by implementing proper budgetary development and monitoring procedures.* 

The Applicants contended that:

[1] The audit committee violated Education Law §2116-c by recommending the hiring of a consultant;

[2] Certain members of the school board had acted in violation of Education Law §1613 in soliciting and engaging a consultant without seeking competitive bids;

[3] The vote of certain board members approving a resolution to “suspend the District policy that requires the Superintendent’s recommendation for the [school board] to hire a consultant” justifies their removal from office and

[4] The school board's hiring of the consultant encroached upon the exclusive authority of the superintendent, in violation of Education Law §1711.

Addressing the contract issue raised in this appeal concerning the board's not seeking "competitive bid" for the consulting services required, the Commissioner observed that the board sought to obtain the professional skills and knowledge of a consultant**to provide training, assistance, and mentoring to the district’s business official relating to the budget development, fiscal monitoring, and reporting. 

As the contract to retain the consultant to provided such types of professional services, the Commissioner said that it was not subject to "the sealed competitive bidding requirements of General Municipal Law §103." Consequently, the Commissioner explained, entering into a contract for professional services without competitive bidding does not violate Education Law §1619. As "professional services contracts" are outside the scope of competitive bidding, the Commissioner said that they "need not be awarded to the lowest bidder provided that the award is in the best interest of the taxpayers."

The Commissioner noted that General Municipal Law §104-b requires a board to adopt policies and procedures to govern the procurement of goods and services not subject to competitive bidding and further such procedures must contain, among other things, a requirement that proposals “be secured by use of written requests for proposals, written quotations, verbal quotations, or any other method of procurement which furthers the purposes of the section.” In this instance Board Policy 6741 set out the process for securing professional services, including the preparation of a request for proposals [REP].

Turning to the Applicants' complaint that certain board members had violated Policy 6741 as the basis for their removal from office, the Commissioner said that "it is well settled that, even if proven, violation of a board’s bylaws or policies, by itself, is not a sufficient basis for removal of a member of a board of education in a proceeding pursuant to Education Law §306."

In contrast, the Commissioner noted that "a violation of board policy may be used as evidence of willfulness of such conduct" and school district officers can only be removed under §306 when they engage in a "willful violation or neglect of duty," i.e.,"a purpose or intent to disregard a lawful duty or to violate a legal requirement" while "[m]ere negligence on the part of a school officer is not enough to warrant removal."

In this instance the Commissioner found that the acts about which Applicants complain "do not rise to the level of willful misconduct and, thus, on the record before me, [Applicants] have failed to demonstrate that [the board members named by Applicants] engaged in a willful violation or neglect of duty.” 

While noting that the board may not have processed the employment of the Consultant as may have been otherwise required by its policies, the Commissioner found that the process followed by the board in this regard "substantially furthered the purpose of General Municipal Law §104-b."

Finally, the Commissioner concluded that no evidence in the record supported a finding that the board members Applicants sought to have removed from office willfully violated the law or neglected their duty, the standard that must be met for removing a board member from office.

The Commissioner concluded her decision with the following statement: "Although I am constrained to deny this application for removal and dismiss this appeal, I admonish respondent board to fully comply with the procedures established in all applicable board policies in the future."

* Applicants had sought "interim relief ... to restrain the board from enforcing the resolution passed by the board to hire the Consultant, which request was denied by the Commissioner.

** The consultant selected by the board was a former audit manager with an accounting firm and former Chief Financial and Operating Officer for the City School District of the City of Buffalo,

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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