At a public meeting Thursday night, board members tabled a motion to pay Trenton-based Russo Music Center for the work and grilled Martin Slater, the assistant superintendent of operations, about the purchase, which Superintendent Harold Kurtz approved after Slater approached him.
Repairing the system would have cost about $3,000, Kurtz said. He and Slater thought buying the new system for less than $7,000 made more sense.
But the Board of Education had been looking for months at the possibility of overhauling the auditorium's sound, hiring an engineer to design a speaker setup to match the room's acoustics, and buying top-line equipment for the project, said Andrew Ott, who chairs the board's buildings and grounds committee.
"The general consensus of the board is we wanted to spend a great deal - a lot more than what was spent - to come up with something that would be acoustically engineered," Ott said. "This was done realizing that we really wanted to go five steps further."
Ott said he had been thinking about the sound system since he attended last spring's play at the high school.
"We had some really talented kids in the play, and the system kind of drowned them out," he said.
It was obvious the school board was unhappy with the administration, both at Thursday's meeting and at a work session the week before. Ott and board Vice President Mike Ciaccia, in particular, blasted Slater two weeks ago, continuing the discussion behind closed doors because it dealt with personnel issues. At the public meeting last week, board members brought up some of the same issues in front of a much larger audience.
Slater apologized at the meeting for not bringing the issue before the board sooner and for not alerting Ott when he bought the equipment.
In an interview Friday, Kurtz defended Slater and himself, saying the administration sometimes needed to be able to make repairs without waiting for the board's approval.
"At no time was there, I believe, on the part of anybody [an attempt] to abuse the power of the board or of the district to get this job done," Kurtz said. "Unfortunately, there's a disagreement on how it was communicated."
The district should be able to transfer much of the equipment to Howard M. Phifer Middle School if officials decide to buy a better system for the high school, Kurtz told the board.
Board members said they expected the bill to be paid at a special business meeting this Thursday. At Russo Music Center, employees declined to comment on the bill. School district officials said Russo had not complained about the payment delay.