Claremont Board Sees Shakeup

  • Stevens High School Principal Frank Sprague in Claermont, N.H., on Aug. 24, 2012. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Brian Rapp

Valley News Correspondent
Friday, February 02, 2018

Claremont — In a surprise motion by School Board Vice Chairman Chris Irish, the panel voted, 5-2, on Wednesday night to appoint Frank Sprague as chairman, replacing Brian Rapp, and to make School Board member Rebecca Zullo the vice chairwoman.

The motion and vote came just before the board entered a non-public session and was not recorded on public access television.

Irish said on Thursday it was obvious to the board and public that he and Rapp were not providing the proper leadership, and that their confrontation at the School Board’s public hearing on the budget last month was the last straw.

“I think the board deserves better (leadership) and Claremont deserves better,” Irish said. “This is the best solution and gives control back to the board.”

Irish and Rapp sparred at a Jan. 3 meeting where the board decided on a 4-3 vote to send a $31.14 million budget to voters at the Feb. 7 deliberative session. Rapp was opposed to a 1 percent cut from the current school year’s budget, in part because school officials may have to find more than $635,000 in additional cuts since the spending plan includes raises mandated under a new teachers contract.

During the Jan. 3 hearing, Rapp had tried to call for a recess after Irish sought to reply to a school district employee who was arguing against the proposed cuts; Irish forced a board vote to continue the meeting. Their exchange became heated before Rapp took his seat and the meeting continued. The incident prompted some to admonish both members for their behavior.

Irish on Thursday recounted that as he made his motion to change leadership on Wednesday, he told colleagues, “It’s pretty clear that our relationship as a board has become somewhat contentious and perhaps dysfunctional at some levels,” and that replacing Rapp and himself with Sprague and Zullo, respectively, “will go a long way in giving the board its identity back heading into the deliberative session.”

Irish said he has been thinking about proposing the change for a while. “We (Irish and Rapp) have not had a good working relationship,” Irish said on Thursday. “But this is not about me or him. Everyone could see we were not functioning well and this is the best way to fix that.”

Rapp, who opposed the motion to replace him as chairman, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Board member Alex Herzog said on Thursday he opposed the motion primarily because it caught him by surprise and there was no chance to have a discussion.

“I don’t know if anyone else was in the know, but I did not know this was coming.” Herzog said. “It was kind of a shock and I wanted to explore other opportunities. I really didn’t have enough time to look at other solutions.”

Herzog said he arrived a few minutes late for the meeting and heard no other board members comment on the motion before it passed, 5-2, with Rapp being the other person opposed.

He said he could support Sprague, the former Stevens High School principal, as chairman but did not agree with the process.

“I think Frank is a real solid guy,” Herzog said. “I just don’t like how we went about it.”

Sprague said on Thursday he believes he is up to the challenge given his background.

“Being on the School Board is a really rewarding position,” Sprague said. “I enjoy it and I have business and education experience.” As for the sometimes contentious atmosphere at board meetings, Sprague said, he hopes to bring a change.

“I think people see me as a relatively calm person and as a cooler head,” he said. “I was in public education for 25 years, mostly as an administrator and part of that job is handling stressful situations.”

The filing deadline for School Board candidates is 4 p.m. today. Three-year seats currently held by Rapp, Irish and Zullo are on the ballot, as well as the one year left on the seat of Herzog, who was appointed to replace Patrick Adrian after he resigned. Irish previously has said he won’t seek another term.

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