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School Budget Set for Ballot In Claremont

Motion to Cut $4M in Funds Defeated by Voters on Floor

Claremont — Just a handful of voters at Thursday’s school deliberative session defeated a motion to cut $4 million from the proposed school budget then shortly after approved putting the $34 million proposal on the March 11 ballot along with a second article to spend $204,000 on technology equipment.

The 75 minute session at the Sugar River Valley Technical Center drew about 20 registered voters, most of whom were either school district employees or School Board members. The proposed budget represents a 4 percent increase over the current year’s general fund school budget.

After a presentation by Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin explaining the budget and the reasons behind a $1.4 million increase in the general fund, resident Phil Howard made a motion, seconded by Thomas LaCasse, to reduce the budget by $4 million.

Board Chairman Richard Seaman said a nearly 12 percent reduction would gut the city’s educational system.

“I don’t know where that would come from unless we talk about shutting down a whole school or cutting out a couple of grades,” Seaman said.

He said the board reviewed programs during deliberations that began late last year and no one stepped forward to challenge the board to reduce the budget.

“I don’t support the number or the approach,” Seaman said about Howard’s proposal to cut $4 million.

LaCasse took exception to Seaman’s statement that no one has asked the board to find ways to reduce the budget.

“I have asked you guys to reduce the budget,” LaCasse said. “Taxpayers can’t afford it. Don’t say that this is the first time. I’ve come up here before.”

Only three voted in favor of the cut.

LaCasse also commented on an article put on the warrant by petition seeking a tax cap on school spending that would prohibit the school district from increasing the amount to be raised by taxes.

“I think we need a tax cap at least for a few years,” LaCasse said. “We have less pupils each (year) and budgets keep going up and up.”

The tax cap proposal needs a 60 percent majority for passage on March 11.

The technology article would provide funding for instructional technology including computers, tablets, interactive whiteboards, electronic library books, iPad learning apps and wireless network upgrades.

In his budget presentation, McGoodwin said most of the increase covers higher debt service, the first year of a three-year contract for teachers and a one-year deal with administrators and $45,000 to pay for an athletic trainer.

If approved as recommended by the board, the budget is expected to add $1.27 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to the school tax rate.

Seaman said the budget fulfills the board’s objectives of meeting the bond obligations for the Stevens High School renovation project, successfully negotiating a pay raise for teachers and investing more at the elementary school level where student enrollment has increased.

“It provides greater opportunities for learning at a younger age,” Seaman said.

“This is a reasonable budget ... that includes successful negotiations.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.