Claremont school budget up nearly 4% as pandemic relief funds dry up

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 01-18-2024 6:54 PM

CLAREMONT — The School Board's proposed budget of $36.1 million for next school year is up $1.23 million from the current budget. 

The 3.6% bump, which the board approved in a 6-0 vote on Wednesday night, includes roughly $680,000 in pay increases under previously approved contracts for teachers and paraprofessionals.

This is the first year in which the School District will not have access to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, money, which was provided by the federal government during the pandemic. Some positions created with ESSER funds have been moved to the budget while others, including three behavior support specialists, two campus monitors and two academic deans have been removed completely.

The budget was created mostly by the School Board's three-person finance committee of Frank Sprague, Heather Whitney and Candace Crawford.

“Our goal was to focus on improving academics,” Crawford said, noting the $20,000 in the budget for English Language Arts curriculum at the elementary schools.

The budget adds a position of health teacher at the Sugar River Valley Technical Center for a new health science curriculum and adds a third social worker who will work as needed throughout the district. Three “instructional coaches,” who work with teachers on instruction practices, were added to the budget after being funded with ESSER money. Increases in health insurance also were a “driver” in the budget increase, SAU 6 Business Administrator Mary Henry said.

Henry told the board and several audience members at a meeting on Wednesday that the additional amount to be raised in taxes is $852,000, but that number could be cut in about half if the board uses $420,000 in surplus from the fiscal year ending June 30, 2023 to offset taxes. Board members agreed it would recommend that approach but will have to hold a public hearing first.

With the surplus money, Henry estimates the budget, if adopted as proposed, would add 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to the school tax rate, which would increase annual school taxes on a property valued at $230,000 by $81.

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The final tax rate, which will be set next fall, could be significantly different, Henry said. A number of bills on education funding are currently pending before the state Legislature, and some propose an increase in the per student adequacy grant from the state.

Prior to the budget discussion on Wednesday, interim Superintendent Chris Pratt, who was appointed following the firing last week of Michael Tempesta, said a controversial plan by Tempesta to change the middle school schedule from five to seven periods would not be implemented in the next school year.

Pratt, who had been principal at Stevens High School prior to taking the interim superintendent position, said the change would be too disruptive to students and he wanted to hold off for at least a year.

“We will work together as a team to come up with what works best at the middle school,” Pratt told the School Board.

There are three, three-year seats for the seven member School Board on the ballot this year. Filing begins on Jan. 24 and continues to Feb. 2.

The Claremont school budget will next be presented at the annual School District deliberative session on Saturday, Feb. 3 beginning at 9 a.m. in the Stevens High School auditorium. Voters can make amendments to the budget at that time before the final vote during all-day balloting on March 12.

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