Claremont School Board Eyeballs Rising Budget

Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Claremont — The School Board got its first look at a proposed $32 million operating budget on Wednesday night but won’t begin discussing the spending plan in detail until its next meeting on Dec. 19.

The budget represents an increase of $492,000, or 1.5 percent, over the current year and carries an estimated tax rate increase of 67 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. About 10 cents of that increase is attributable to a reduction in revenues.

In contrast to recent budget proposals, this plan was developed in meetings between members of a School Board subcommittee and administrators with the SAU office and with district schools.

Committee member Jason Benware said the plan was to come in with an increase of no more than 50 percent of the roughly $900,000 in (unavoidable) fixed cost increases and non-tax revenue cuts the district must absorb in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

“We were able to do that,” Benware said, adding that more reductions are likely and will be explained in detail in two weeks.

The fixed costs represent increases in pay under contracts approved last year for teachers, secretaries, maintenance workers and paraprofessionals, according to Assistant Superintendent Cory LeClair.

“The fixed cost increases are not for additional people or programs; they are what is already in place,” she said.

Also part of the increase are higher retirement and health insurance expenses for employees and contracted services. State funding is projected to decrease about $100,000.

“We really worked hard as a team and looked at things we have control over,” Benware told the board. “We tried to do the best for students and have the community and taxpayers in mind at the same time. We went line by line pretty diligently.”

Board chairman Frank Sprague said police coverage at athletic events was one example of where savings was found. He said while coverage is expected at rivalry games of football and soccer, it likely is not needed for junior varsity or volleyball contests.

Wednesday’s presentation was in sharp contrast to last year when a majority of the board asked for a budget with about $1.2 million in reductions and instead received a proposal from the administration with a significant increase. That led to contentious meetings involving the board, administration and public leading up to the vote in March.

They sought to avoid a repeat of that process this year, Benware said after the meeting.

“We worked well together and it is better when there is a team approach, not an us-versus-them,” he said.

Also on Wednesday night, LeClair said the district received another $2,311 in donations for the food service debt that accumulated last year because of unpaid accounts. But because that debt of about $32,000 was recently cleared off the books with other donations, including an anonymous one of $29,000, the board voted to distribute latest donations to the five schools to stock the pantry shelves that are being built by students at the Sugar River Valley Technical Center.

“Those pantries are a really good use of the money,” Benware said.

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