Budget Clears Claremont Deliberative

Valley News Correspondent
Friday, February 09, 2018

Claremont — At Thursday evening’s school deliberative session, voters approved one amendment of $307,253 to the proposed budget but narrowly defeated a second amendment for $175,000.

The $34.9 million budget, which includes an operating budget of $31.45 million, will now go to voters at the annual school district vote on March 13, along with three other appropriations in separate warrant articles.

If all spending is approved as recommended, the local school tax rate is projected to increase 11 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Prior to the $307,253 amendment, the tax rate estimate was a 33 cent decrease. The budget, as approved, cuts the operating budget from this year by about $22,000, compared to the $329,000 reduction under the board-approved budget.

Resident Matt Bean proposed the amendment, which passed, 99-35, and is equal to the value of the first year of a two-year teachers contract already in the budget. The board added the contract to the budget but then voted to reduce spending by the same amount to achieve a tax rate decrease.

Bean said it is wrong to try to correct the problem of high taxes by cutting school spending.

“If the cuts pass, there will be people without jobs and students will be hurt,” Bean said. “It is not the way to solve the tax problem in Claremont.”

Also speaking in support of the amended budget was resident George Caccavaro, who said the problem is the “1,000-pound gorilla” in Concord, which will not be solved until there is a broad-based tax to support schools. He said a “nickel-and-dime” approach to lower taxes will only hurt students.

But several opponents of the increase said more money does not seem to work and taxes need to come down to attract younger families to Claremont.

“Spending increases are not working,” resident Thomas Lacasse said. “Everybody is still moving out of town. We are going the wrong way.”

Resident Heather Irish said high taxes are keeping families from moving here.

“Young families are not coming to Claremont due to taxes, not the level of education,” Irish said.

She told the residents gathered in the high school auditorium that she knows of people who have told her they have chosen to buy a home in other towns because of their lower taxes.

“It is time to start making this town more attractive to young families,” Irish said.

But Charlie Gessner, a Stevens High School teacher, disagreed with Irish and said his daughter and her husband found a home in Claremont, proving that young families can “make it” in Claremont if they are willing to give it a try. But for Gessner, the larger problem is pay disparities with neighboring districts that have resulted in high staff turnover in Claremont.

After the amendment was approved, Richard Seaman, a former School Board member and candidate for a one-year seat this year, proposed adding another $175,000 and recommended it be used for technology. It was defeated, 67-66.

This year’s budget includes $700,000 for technology but a request for another $850,000 from the administration was cut by the board.

Seaman said there is a huge demand for workers skilled in information technology in Claremont and beyond, and it is important to maintain sufficient funding in that area.

“When you start cutting back on technology it puts students in the position of not being qualified for the jobs we have,” Seaman said.

Others who supported the earlier amendment did not speak in favor of Seaman’s.

Jason Benware, a School Board candidate, said students are not losing technology in next year’s budget. He called Bean’s amendment a “fair compromise” to the budget.

“I think we should stay with that,” Benware said.

Also on the warrant is $141,000 for security upgrades at all district schools. If approved in March, the money would be added to a nearly $562,000 federal grant and will provide exterior and interior surveillance cameras, electronic door-locking systems and shades on classroom doors.

The last two articles are for a lease payment on two new buses for $39,000 and roof repairs at Claremont Middle School for $100,000.

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