Claremont among NH districts worried pandemic enrollment dip will hurt state funding

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2021 10:33:56 PM
Modified: 1/23/2021 10:33:55 PM

CLAREMONT — Two top officials from Claremont have signed a letter from mayors and school leaders around New Hampshire aimed at ensuring public schools don’t face a major funding shortfall because of fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

School districts across the country have received funding to provide free meals to all students during the pandemic. As a result, far fewer families have filled out eligibility paperwork for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. But the percentage of eligible students is used as a factor for determining other kinds of aid.

In addition, student counts are lower, as some families have opted for home schooling or private school during the pandemic. Lower student counts reduce state aid.

“It’s very important to us that our concerns are heard early on in the budget-making process,” Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett said in a phone interview.

Claremont stands to lose around $324,000 in revenue, said Claremont School Board Chairman Frank Sprague, who along with Lovett signed the letter.

“We hoped that we’d have a negative tax impact this year,” Sprague said. As it stands now, the tax rate would be up by 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $90 on a home assessed at $150,000.

Lovett and Sprague signed the letter sent last week to Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, Gov. Chris Sununu, Senate President Chuck Morse and House Speaker Sherm Packard. Officials from 10 other cities around the state, including Manchester, Nashua, Keene and Portsmouth, also signed the letter.

In a statement, Morse, a Salem Republican, said the Legislature planned to address the issues brought up in the letter: “Among several bills filed this year regarding education funding will be ones that specifically address school enrollment and the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. The aim of these bills is to assure that our school districts do not lose state funding because of the pandemic. We will be working with our mayors and school districts as we develop the next state budget.”

City mayors formed a roundtable last year to discuss issues of mutual interest and sent a letter to Sununu last fall about homelessness and affordable housing that sparked new state initiatives, Lovett said.

Claremont stabilized its education taxes by deploying some of the money it got back from the state last year on one-time projects, such as buying new buses and needed building renovations, Sprague said.

“These are extraordinary circumstances,” he said of the pandemic-related school funding issues. “We’re hoping that they’ll look for other ways instead of cutting the schools.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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