More Cuts May Come In Claremont

Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, January 04, 2018

Claremont — School district officials may have to make more than $635,000 in cuts in the upcoming school year if voters pass the latest budget approved by a divided Claremont School Board.

Following a contentious public hearing on Wednesday night, the board decided on a 4-3 vote to send a $31.14 million budget to voters at the deliberative session on Feb. 7, where residents can amend the proposal before the final vote in March.

The proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year is the same amount as the one approved by the School Board on Dec. 20, and represents a decrease of 1 percent, or $329,000, from the current school year’s budget. But because the budget endorsed by the School Board late Wednesday night also includes $307,000 for the first year of a two-year teachers contract, the spending plan could require the administration to find more than $635,000 in cuts from this year’s $31.47 million budget.

The board debated the budget during its regular meeting after a public hearing, where the audience of about 70 people appeared evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the budget.

The board’s majority said during the discussion that adding the teachers contract to the main budget eliminates the goal of a tax rate reduction if cuts beyond the 1 percent level are not required.

Board Vice Chairman Chris Irish said he is committed to giving residents the opportunity to vote for tax relief and if they decide to amend the budget by adding money, he will accept that decision.

“The driving force behind that number was getting some tax relief,” Irish said. “I’m not giving up on that. I want to hold firm.”

Frank Sprague said board members have made some conciliations backing off their original request for a $1.2 million cut from this year and now are close to offering a budget that cuts taxes.

“That is what we wanted to do,” Sprague said. “We have come a long way and I would hate to see us fall short this close to the finish line.”

The $31.14 million proposal estimates a 47 cent per $1,000 tax rate reduction while the proposal presented at the public hearing of $31.45 million would add about 32 cents to the tax rate.

Irish; Sprague, the former Stevens High School principal; Michelle Pierce; and Rebecca Zullo voted in favor of the budget. Chairman Brian Rapp and members Alex Herzog and Michael Petrin were opposed.

“For me, this is staggering,” Rapp said about the potential cuts.

He criticized the majority, claiming that two weeks ago it saw cuts below 1 percent, or $329,000, as “too drastic” and not acceptable but are willing to cut another $300,000 with the teachers’ contract in the budget.

“It was too much for you then,” Rapp said.

Herzog saw the potential cuts as not only hurting the schools but the city also because families and businesses are more apt to move here if they see the investment in schools and that can lower the tax rate.

“I didn’t want to make the excuse that we didn’t have the money to do that,” he said.

Under the 1 percent budget reduction, Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin has told the board that several teaching positions likely will be eliminated as well as the high school crisis counselor and nearly $1 million in new spending on technology won’t happen, putting the district further behind in that area. McGoodwin took issue with those who accused him of “scare tactics.”

“I would not recommend cuts if there were other areas,” McGoodwin said. He then implored the board to show him where the reductions could be made. “Please, I need your help. In what line items are these funds available?”

Before the board passed the budget, Herzog made a motion to adopt the budget figure that was presented at the public hearing and allow voters to cut it at the deliberative session. It was defeated, 4-3. He urged residents to come out to the deliberative session and defeat the budget.

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