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Claremont residents to vote on special education proposal on Nov. 21

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 11/7/2019 11:19:04 AM
Modified: 11/7/2019 10:25:56 PM

CLAREMONT — The Claremont School District is set to vote next month on what to do with a chunk of extra money from the state: Put it into a new fund to bolster special education, or use it to lighten taxpayers’ load.

At a public hearing Wednesday night, School Board member Jason Benware said the district is slated to receive an additional $1.3 million, and the School Board is proposing to use about half of that to offset taxes and the other half for new special education expendable trust fund to expand special education programming. The district will hold a special vote Nov. 21 to decide what to do.

Chairman Frank Sprague opened the hearing by stating that the process — hearing and vote — is “rushed and chaotic” because the district only found out recently that it must decide how to spend the money by Dec. 1. Without a vote approving the special education funding, all of the money would have to be used to offset taxes.

“We ourselves did not know the constraints (on the money) until the last board meeting,” Sprague said.

Superintendent Mike Tempesta outlined for the board his plan for the money if voters approve the warrant article on Nov. 21.

The first area would be an expansion of the “persons receiving interim diversionary education,” or PRIDE, program at the elementary level, which was approved as part of the budget last March. Tempesta said it has been successful in saving money by bringing students back to the district and educating them at home.

Prior to the annual School Meeting vote last year, the board said the proposed budget factors in three students initially but the plan is to raise that number. Keeping students local rather than having them travel 90 minutes each way to receive services could save $90,000 per student each year and provide an improved educational environment, the board said.

The second program would be for students with autism and be developed with the help of the New England Center for Children in Massachusetts. Tempesta said they have identified nine students that could be served. Six students, ages 9-17, now costing $550,000 could come back to the district, and another three, who are now in district but might eventually have to be sent out at a cost of $270,000, could remain in Claremont with the new program.

The program would cost about $300,000, but save a net of $500,000, factoring in the out-of-district expenses that would be avoided, Tempesta said.

The third part of Tempesta’s plan is an alternative program at the high school for dropout prevention and credit recovery. He said school officials have already identified 10 to 15 students who could benefit from the program and that number could be as high as 30.

If successful, the program could possibly serve other districts and become a source of tuition revenue for Claremont, the superintendent said.

Overall, Tempesta said, the district will save money in the long run by keeping more special education students in the district.

Resident Cynthia Howard objected to the board’s proposal, saying enough has been spent in recent years on infrastructure, pay raises and more.

“I think the majority should come back to the taxpayers,” Howard said.

Besides the $1.3 million this year, Benware said the district will receive $1.6 million next year plus another $2.2 million that must be spent on infrastructure improvements.

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

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