Claremont Board Readies Sales Pitch

Claremont — On Wednesday, the School Board and administration will formally begin what is likely to be an uphill fight in the effort to win voter approval for a nearly $12.6 million bond to renovate Stevens High School.

The bond, which requires 60 percent voter approval, along with a proposed $32.15 million budget and other warrant articles, will be discussed at Wednesday’s school deliberative session beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Sugar River Valley Technical Center.

Residents can amend some, but not all, of the articles before adopting them for the annual school district vote on March 12.

If approved in March as currently recommended, the 20-year bond would add 30 cents to the school tax rate the first year. The tax increase would increase to $1.08 the second year and remain at about that level until the it is paid off, assuming there is no change in the city’s total assessed valuation.

School Board members have said the total cost of $17.3 million, which includes interest, is about what residents would have paid to support the $23 million bond to expand and renovate Stevens that failed by one vote in 2010. That proposal included state building aid. There is no state aid currently available for this project.

State Rep. John Cloutier, D-Claremont, said this week that his bill, HB-626, to provide building aid if voters pass the bond, has been referred to the House Education Committee and a hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 14 at 1:45 p.m. in Concord.

The bill would “prioritize school building aid funds for a high school in which accreditation is probationary or has been revoked,” according to the text of the bill.

Stevens is currently on probation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges because of the condition of the building. There is no aid figure attached to HB-626 and Cloutier said he could not predict how much money would be approved or when, if the bill is passed and signed into law.

“This is more of a policy bill but hopefully it will help Stevens and Claremont,” he said, adding that through his research he determined that Stevens is the only high school in the state that would qualify for building aid based on the bill’s criteria.

Last year, the Legislature lifted the moratorium on school building aid it had imposed in July 2010 and approved $50 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. But the money is going to either existing school projects or ones that have been approved by voters.

The proposed renovations would upgrade classrooms and others areas throughout the building, replace all electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems, create a new front entrance area, expand the cafeteria, add parking spaces and make the entire building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Also on the warrant is a 20-year lease purchase agreement for wood pellet boilers and energy equipment at the district’s three elementary schools, middle school and high school. The board projects that the $270,000 annual lease payments on the $7 million expense will be offset by energy cost savings in the operating budget and thus not add to the tax rate.

The proposed general fund budget is 2.65 percent, or $756,000, more than the current year’s and would add 51 cents to the tax rate.

Other warrant articles include two, three-year collective bargaining agreements with transportation and maintenance employees and secretaries, and a one year pact with paraprofessionals. Replacement of two school buses under a five-year lease/purchase in article 9 has a total cost of $191,178 with five annual payments of $39,918. Technology purchases for $112,850 complete the appropriations request in the warrant.

If all money articles pass in March as presented, they would add $1.06 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to the school tax rate.

An article calling for a cap on school spending that would require the school board to recommend a budget that did not increase the amount to be raised by taxes is on the warrant by petition. A 60 percent majority is required to pass.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at