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Claremont Chairman Recuses Self

Claremont — School Board Chairman Richard Seaman followed through last night on his earlier promise to recuse himself from further discussions regarding Johnson Controls, which could is under consideration for a large contract with the school district for energy equipment upgrades.

The Milwaukee-based company is a corporate donor to the Student Conservation Association, where Seaman has been the chief financial officer since 2005.

Also last night, state Rep. John Cloutier, D-Claremont, said that the House Education Committee rejected a bill he sponsored that would have prioritized building aid for schools on accreditation probation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Cloutier said the vote was 16-2 and it now goes to the full House where he said it will probably suffer a similar fate.

“I’m disappointed and it is a setback, but of course, there was no guarantee there would be money available,” Cloutier said.

At the March school meeting, voters will consider to borrow $12.6 million bond to renovate Stevens High School, which has been on NEASC probation since last summer.

Currently, there is no state building aid for the project. Though no dollar amount was attached to the bill, Cloutier said HB-626 was aimed at moving Stevens to the front of the line for aid when it is available.

Right now, Cloutier said he doesn’t think he will fight on the House floor next week to save the bill because of the wide margin of defeat.

“It would be difficult (to get the votes), however, I do want to read the committee report before deciding what to do,” he said.

Cloutier held out hope that Stevens could see aid at some point because he said Gov. Maggie Hassan’s proposed budget increases building aid.

The School Board, led by Seaman, has told voters that passing the bond and energy upgrades at Stevens will save money in the long run.

In his comments regarding Johnson Controls, Seaman told the board that the company’s donations to SCA amount to between 1 and 2 percent of the nonprofits total revenue, Since 2006, the firm has donated between $200,000 and $600,000 a year.

“They basically help us run programs in three cities, Detroit, Milwaukee and Baltimore,” Seaman said. “The programs provide inner city children with job training and job skills.”

Seaman said there is no correlation between his roles as CFO of SCA and School Board chairman and the $7 million lease/purchase proposal from Johnson that is before voters.

“These are two separate issues and not at all related,” Seaman said. “It doesn’t create in my mind a conflict of interest.”

Even so, he understood how some could perceive it in that way and therefore would cease to be involved in any discussions regarding Johnson Controls.

Board members did not comment nor did the two audience members in attendance, who were there for a different agenda item.

The company’s energy performance contract proposal is similar to more than 2,000 the company has completed. It guarantees the reduction in annual energy costs in the district will be enough to cover the lease payments each year. The upgrades would include wood pellet/propane boilers at five schools along with windows, insulation and lighting.

Seaman said after the meeting he has not heard from the public regarding Johnson Controls and its donations to SCA.

“None. None at all,” said Seaman, who has had a long career in banking.

In a related item, SAU 6 Business Manager Tim Ball said the district is still clarifying the language of the “performance development agreement” with Johnson Controls but said there are only minor revisions needed and they won’t stop the agreement.

“I’m optimistic,” said Ball.

A PDA would allow Johnson to do an energy audit of the five school district buildings and come up with a design, cost estimates and projected savings for the upgrades.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.