Claremont School Board approves budget plan with big cuts to tech center

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 1/21/2022 8:13:10 AM
Modified: 1/21/2022 8:12:05 AM

CLAREMONT — The School Board has unanimously endorsed the superintendent’s proposed $37.24 million budget for the 2022-23 school year, despite calls from several residents at a public hearing to reverse cuts made to the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center budget.

The budget will next be presented at the district’s deliberative session on Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the Stevens High School auditorium before the citywide vote on March 8.

At Tuesday’s hearing, prior to the board’s vote, many of the roughly 20 residents told the board the $181,200 reduction in the technical center budget, a 16% cut, was the wrong move.

They argued the center prepares kids for more school or provides basic skills in carpentry, plumbing and heating, and machine tooling.

“The tech center helps prepare students to further their education at a two- or four-year school and employment offers high-paying jobs right out of high school,” said John Lambert, owner of Lambert Auto Sales and Claremont Cycle Depot. “I really hope you support these programs and put money back in the tech center. Reconsider your cuts and grow the school; don’t make it go away.”

Many of the comments were in support of retaining a full-time director at the center. Under the proposed budget, the current director, Alex Herzog, would have his position reduced by half and then have him split his time taking over adult education.

“To cut the director to half-time sends the wrong message,” resident John Hall said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

In his budget presentation, SAU 6 Business and Finance Director Richard Seaman said the reduction at the tech center included the elimination of nursing and guidance counselor positions and the modification of an accounting position and the director’s job.

Some worried it was a step toward eliminating the tech center courses altogether at a time of regional demand in construction trades. Residents argued that the center can prepare students for a career in the trades.

“We need electricians, plumbers and carpenters, and this is where they get their start,” said Bonnie Miles, a real estate agent in Claremont.

Miles added that her son got started in his career at the tech center and is doing well in the plumbing and heating field.

“We need to grow the programs and not keep whittling away until there is nothing left,” said resident Kip Ryan, who also advocated for keeping the director full-time.

When the tech center opened in the early 1990s, there were eight programs. Today there are four: advanced manufacturing, plumbing and heating, building and construction, and culinary arts. Previous courses, including marketing and early childhood education, were eliminated in earlier cuts.

“It makes more sense to double down and make programs more prolific,” said Mike Demars, a Claremont business owner.

Scott Pope, who teaches advanced manufacturing at the tech center, said that while some students use the skills learned to enter the machine tool industry, he has seen others go on to earn degrees at prestigious engineering schools.

“This is not just hands-on learning,” said Pope, who suggested the board form a “visioning committee” of parents, teachers and others to study the center’s current programs and develop a strategy for long-term growth.

Several other residents spoke in support of restoring the position of autism specialist at the high school, which they say is critical.

On Wednesday, School Board Chairman Frank Sprague said the board’s support for SAU 6 Superintendent Michael Tempesta’s budget plan does not mean the board is “anti-tech.” He said board members support the center as an important resource for many students, but he noted that the center is not seeing enrollment increases.

Overall, the budget represents a 1.43% decrease, or $541,000, from this year’s spending plan of $37.78 million and would mean a reduction in the amount to be raised by taxes of $732,000.

During a PowerPoint presentation, Seaman explained the reductions and increases at the city’s three elementary schools, the middle school, high school and tech center. He attributed most to either lower out-of-district placement cost, elimination of positions or contractual and health insurance increases. As an example, Stevens High School’s reduction of $454,000 was due primarily to out-of-district tuition.

Also on the warrant in March will be four collective bargaining agreements for secretaries, paraprofessionals, maintenance and transportation employees and administrators.

If no changes are made at the deliberative session by voters and the budget and warrant articles are approved in March, the overall projected tax rate is $22.85 ($21.62 local tax rate and $1.23 state tax rate) per $1,000 of assessed value. That is an increase of 8 cents from the current rate and would add $12 in school taxes to a home assessed at $150,000.

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




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