Claremont superintendent postpones push to revamp elementary schools

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 1/22/2020 11:48:34 AM

CLAREMONT  — A proposed restructuring of the city’s three elementary schools that was intended to take effect at the beginning of the next school year has been delayed for at least one year, according to School Superintendent Mike Tempesta.

Tempesta told the School Board and residents at a public hearing on the proposed 2020-21 school budget and School District warrant on Tuesday that he reached his decision after so many residents raised objections and concerns about the plan.

Unveiled last week, the proposal would make the three schools grade specific. Instead of each school, Disnard, Maple Avenue and Bluff, having grades Pre-K through 5, Maple would be Pre-K through first grade, Disnard grade 2 and 3 and Bluff grades 4 and 5.

“There was a lot going on with this so we are pushing it back at least a year,” Tempesta told about 40 people in the audience on Tuesday. “Some issues have not been resolved and they are substantial, such as transportation.”

Tempesta acknowledged that the administration did not have all the answers to the concerns raised by parents and staff, primarily transportation and transitioning students. He proposed creating focus groups to include parents to examine all the ramifications of the proposed change and perhaps bring the plan back before the board in the fall.

“We want to take our time and do it well, or maybe not at all,” Tempesta said.

Several residents, including parents of elementary age children, who addressed the board, cited a few reasons they did not support the restructuring. Some worried about children moving to three schools in six years but most said transportation was a big issue for them.

Resident Dave Vaninwagen said he appreciated the goals of the restructuring but asked about parents having to get more than one child to different schools.

“How does a single parent get two or three children to different schools and pick them up?” he asked. “There are so many logistical issues that have to be overcome for this to happen. It seems the problems outweigh the benefits.”

When School Board member Heather Whitney said that she researched the plan and found evidence and data to support it, resident Michelle Beaton said she wants to be sure that data fits Claremont’s demographics.

Toward the end of the discussion, when a resident asked whether a restructuring plan would be decided by a voter referendum, School Board members Jason Benware, Carolyn Towle and vice chairwoman Rebecca Zullo all said they would support having residents vote on the plan

Also on Wednesday, the School Board voted to send the proposed $38.2 million budget with a $34.7 million operating portion and five appropriations in separate warrant articles to the deliberative session on Wed., Feb. 5 at 6:30 in the high school auditorium.

Two of the articles seek $500,000 each for new capital reserve funds for bus repair and maintenance and building repair and maintenance. The money would come from additional state aid.

Whitney said she fully supported the articles and their goal of having money to upgrade the bus fleet and maintain the buildings but worried voters might balk at a million dollars.

“For us to put a million in warrant articles seems like a tough pill for people to swallow,” Whitney said. “I want the best chance of passing and I think it jeopardizes the reserve funds we are trying to implement.”

Richard Seaman, the school district’s business and finance director, said with these funds the district won’t be asking for money for these purposes for three to five years.

“It will keep our vehicles going and we can replace the worse ones,” Seaman said.

Whitney’s motion to reduce the bus fund to $350,000 and building repair fund to $150,000 failed in a 4-2 vote. The board then passed the budget and warrant as recommended.

The operating budget represents a $2.9 million, or 9%, spending increase from this year but because of additional state revenues the amount to be raised by taxes is down more than $1 million.

The budget includes $400,000 for the first year of a three-year teachers’ contract, four new teaching positions at the elementary school and higher special education costs at the elementary level. There is also $1.5 million in the budget for capital improvements which will be covered by additional state aid that the district will only receive next year.

If the budget and all warrant articles pass, the local school tax rate is estimated to drop 56 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Voters can amend warrant articles at the deliberative session. The final vote on the warrant is March 10.

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




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