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Claremont to vote on refined budget in Tuesday elections

Valley New Correspondent
Published: 3/9/2019 10:14:51 PM
Modified: 3/9/2019 10:28:21 PM

Voting on the school warrant and the election of school officers is Tuesday, March 12, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Ward I and Ward II will vote at the Claremont Middle School on South Street and Ward III will vote at Disnard Elementary School on Hanover Street.

CLAREMONT — When residents go the polls Tuesday to vote on the school budget and other appropriations, School Board Chairman Frank Sprague hopes they fully understand the different approach the board and administration took this year in developing the $35.3 million spending plan and the close attention paid to trimming spending where possible.

“In the past, the budget was handed to us,” Sprague said. “This year we went through the budget with principals. Everyone sat with us and we went through the budget line by line by line. We found some interesting things”

By us, Sprague was referring to a budget subcommittee that included board members Jason Benware and Mike Petrin.

In one example, Sprague said they noticed the district was paying for police presence at sporting events, and while that might be necessary sometimes, it should not be all the time. He said paying for police at a midafternoon volleyball game does not make sense.

“It is amazing what you can find,” said Sprague, a former Stevens High principal himself, adding that careful scrutiny can save thousands of dollars.

The School Board had established a goal that would raise the budget by no more than half of the increase from fixed costs and lost revenue.

These costs include salaries and wages under previously approved negotiated collective bargaining agreements, increases in health, dental and employee retirement costs and out-of-district placement of students.

Those increases, built in for next year, total more than $800,000.

The spending increase in the $31.8 million operating budget is about $330,000, or 1 percent, above the current school year. To reach that figure, the board approved personnel cuts of $632,000, which would be absorbed through attrition or reassignment, not layoffs, and also added about $400,000 in new staffing. Most of the personnel increase is for a new special education alternative program at the elementary level that school officials say will save the district money in the long run and be a better educational model for students.

The proposal would have up to 12 students in two rooms with teachers, mental health workers and a social worker.

Benware said by keeping special education students local, instead having them travel as much as 90 minutes each way to receive services, it could save the district about $90,000 per student and also provide an improved educational environment with the students being closer to home and learning with their peers.

“It is an investment in education,” Benware said at the Feb. 6 school deliberative session.

Sprague said if the proposed budget fails, cuts under the default budget could include the alternative education program, technology, an ROTC teacher at the technical center, maintenance and repairs, and security upgrades. A newly negotiated three-year contract with the Claremont Administrators Association would also be eliminated if the budget fails.

“They (administrators) took a different (health) insurance plan so the cost is neutral,” Sprague said.

Other articles on the warrant include $249,000 for a two-way radio communications system, surveillance cameras on school buses for $51,000 and an upgrade to the fire alarm panel at Disnard Elementary School for $80,000. Police and school officials say having two-way radios with a simple, “push-to-talk” feature will provide immediate communication in an emergency situation among all schools and emergency services.

Cameras on buses would cut down on incidents of bullying, improve student safety and provide a clear accounting when there are accusations against the driver or bus aide, officials said.

If all spending on the School District warrant is approved, the tax rate would increase by 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, adding $135 in property taxes to a home assessed at $150,000.

In the only contested race, former School Board Chairman Brian Rapp, who was defeated in a re-election bid last March, is seeking to win back a seat in a four-way race for two three-year terms. Incumbents Carolyn Towle, Michelle Pierce and Rob Lovett Jr., who was appointed following the resignation of Steve Horsky, are also on the ballot.

Heather Whitney is unopposed for a two-year seat on the School Board.

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


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