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Claremont Fills School Board Seat

District Administrators Propose $31M Budget

Claremont — Robert Picard, a former City Councilor and past School Board candidate, has been selected by the board to fill the seat of Gene Grumman, who resigned in November.

Picard was chosen in a 6-1 vote Wednesday night after the board asked the candidates several questions in a public forum before deliberating behind closed doors. The other candidates were Tom Brothers and Patrick Adrian.

Picard will have to run in the March election to complete the last year of Grumman’s three-year seat, which expires in 2015. Grumman resigned from the board after inappropriate comments he made to players on a girls soccer team he coached came to light.

Picard said he put his name in for the seat because he has been passionate about education for many years. When asked about preparing students for beyond high school, Picard said he would place a priority on technology as he views it as a cornerstone of education today.

“We have got to spend money on technology. It is definitely lacking,” Picard said during the interview before the board.

He also wants to raise discussion about the new grading system, which he said does not make sense to him.

“It is just something that has been gnawing at me,” Picard said.

He said he watched his daughter, who graduated from Stevens High last year, struggle with homework and some of her classes. But then under the new grading system she had no homework and was suddenly passing everything.

“There is something wrong with the system,” Picard said.

The School Board, in response to a petition recently presented to the administration, will publicly discuss the new grading system, which went into effect last year, at its meeting on Feb. 19.

Also Wednesday night, the School Board held a public hearing followed by a discussion on the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014.

In response to a directive from the board last week, the administration presented a $31.1 million general fund budget at the hearing.

The proposed general fund budget represents an increase of $1.17 million or 3.9 percent from the current year and would add $1.39 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to the tax rate, according to figures provided by SAU 6 Business Manager Tim Ball.

The increases, according to Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin are to cover an increase in debt service, primarily for the $12.6 million Stevens High School Renovation bond approved last March, and the first year of new contracts for teachers and administrators. The district failed to reach an agreement with the district’s approximately 120 paraprofessionals, McGoodwin said.

In order to reach the limit on spending the board wanted, the administration cut about $365,000 from the $31.2 million budget proposed last week. The big item was removing $203,000 for technology from the budget and placing it in a separate warrant article. The $42,500 for a school improvement coordinator was also taken out because the position will be funded in the SAU 6 budget. Smaller amounts came from lower estimated costs for several teaching positions.

During the public hearing, resident Cynthia Howard, a former School Board member, said the budget was still too high.

“We need to reduce the budget a lot more,” Howard said. “We have to do less in the real world and it is time the School Board does the same.”

During the board discussion, member David Putnam tossed out the idea of lowering the proposed budget below the default budget, which would go into effect if the proposed spending plan is defeated by voters.

Putnam’s concern is that if the default budget is adopted it would not include the salary increases for teachers, which are in the proposed budget. Voters would likely support the smaller budget because it would mean less of a tax increase. Putnam said the new contract represents hard work and compromise on the part of the teachers and he wants to see that commitment rewarded.

“I don’t want to put their (teachers) commitment at risk.”

The board did not act on the recommendation.

The board could finalize the budget on Jan. 22 and will present it to voters at the deliberative session on Feb. 5.

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