Tempesta Vote Special Meeting

Superintendent Michael Tempesta, left, gives Claremont voters an overview of the purpose for expanding special education programs. Claremont School Board member Michael Petrin is on the right.

CLAREMONT — By an overwhelming majority, Claremont residents approved to appropriate $650,000 in unanticipated state aid to create and expand special education programs, at a special meeting Thursday.

More than 70 residents attended the meeting at the Stevens High School auditorium to consider a proposal by the Claremont School Board to spend half of the $1.3 million in unanticipated state aid it received in September to fund three district programs, which the district aims to save considerable taxpayer money and even provide new revenue from tuitioning in students from other districts.

The voice vote was so indisputably in favor of the motion, the school board did not need to call for a ballot vote.

“I’m very excited for the future of Claremont students and schools,” Superintendent Michael Tempesta said after the meeting.

The district may begin work planning and developing three key programs after securing voter approval.

One program, the PRIDE (Project based Respectful Individualized Data driven Education) program, currently serves six elementary school students who are currently unable to learn in the mainstream population. This program, initiated this school year, provides education to students with special needs in district, rather than having to send them to an out-of-district school.

The district will use $182,000 to create a second classroom with a capacity to add eight tuition students.

The district will also use $293,000 to create an autism program, which Tempesta said would enable the district to circumvent sending three current students out of district this year and likely bring three out-of-district students back to Claremont next year. The district also hopes to eventually to bring in tuition students from other districts, as there is a need in the region for autism-specialized programs.

For the third program, the district will appropriate $175,000 to refund the Stevens High School Alternative Program. This program could serve approximately 30 high school students who are identified as at-risk of dropping out, through small-class content instruction, credit recovery opportunities, mentoring and job placements.

Proponents for the funding said this money provides Claremont a critical opportunity to recapture hundreds of thousands of dollars it sends out of district and potentially generate its own streams of revenue.

“We may have money this year and money next year, but this is not sustainable,” State Rep. Walter A. Stapleton (R-Ward III) said. “So we take the money and put it to immediate use; help the kids, stop the loss and create a revenue potential to help the schools and the city.”

School Board Chair Frank Sprague explained that this $1.3 million represents part of the district stabilization grant, which the state restored to its full amount in the state budget. The state originally gave stabilization grants to New Hampshire districts whose student populations have a higher rate of needs. The city’s stabilization grant was originally $6.2 million per year. But in 2015, the state decided to incrementally phase out these grants, at a rate of 4% per year for 25 years. The restored aid is only guaranteed in the current state budget.

Resident Jeremy Herrell raised his concern to the board about the risk should these programs fail to deliver.

“If we spend this money, what kind of guarantee do we have as taxpayers, parents and [caregivers] that this program is going to work,” Herrell asked. “What kind of guarantees do we have?”

Tempesta responded by referencing his experience creating these programs in Massachusetts, where his team tripled the size of their autism program in less than three years.

“There’s a lot of work to do to pull this off,” Tempesta said. “But we’ve already seen initial success [in the PRIDE classroom] with our team of educators. If you have that, and hard work, in the end I’m very confident we will have success. There are no guarantees in anything in life, but I’m as confident in this as anything I’ve done the past 27 years.”

The remaining $650,000 will return to the taxpayers through a revenue offset in the next school budget. The board made that decision at a related public hearing held on Nov. 7.

After the meeting, Herrell said that while he entered the meeting inclined to vote against the proposal, the discussion provided such convincing rationale that he voted in favor.

Ed. note, Nov. 22, 2019 - Changed the meaning of the acronym PRIDE. Changed "PRIDE classroom" to "PRIDE program" as there are two classrooms at Maple Ave. Elementary. The program currently serves six students, not three.

(1) comment

Cassieburke

Hello as a claremont tax payer and a mom. Yes taxes are high we choose to live here knowing that. Our children don’t choose where they will live. I agree to live here pay high property tax witch I pay every time faithfully. But I myself need to maybe give some light on this out of district placement they are wanting to create.

I have a 13 year old high functioning autistic son. When people see my son they see a typical 13 year old. Well he isn’t. He struggles everyday to go to school because social encounters in other peers trigger him. This can look different to many. Well in sau6 elementary they have many great tools and programs to help him be successful. Middle school they have a camp room basically a room where kids with iep a can go weather behaviors or disabilities they have this safe space. Well now my son is on his way to high school next year. We are being told there is nothing here to support his needs. He is to high functioning for there life skills education but he won’t be able to handle regular Ed classes because they will be to large for him. So here I am touring out of district placements witch are schools over 45 min away. So for my son to attend I have to give him motion sickness pills to and from school just for transportation reasons. He can’t even take public or private transportation they provide for 7 min down road but I’m supposed to put him on a bus 45 min away.

So anyways I go tour these schools first one I tour is a run down facility where basically I walk in kids are sleeping teachers arnt even working with them they are just sitting there. The gym were my son OT would be was run down and not maintained looked like a kid could really get hurt there. Yesturday I went and toured a school for autistic kids. And yes for low functioning kids this May be a great program but I don’t send my kid to school to learn how to fold laundry wash dishes cook food I teach him that at home. They really have no educational programs there they only offer Hi-set program witch is schooling online.

As I tour both schools I come to a dead space there still is no place for my son. My son is to low functioning for sau6 programs to high functioning for out of district placements.

We need this money so we can help kids like my son to get them the education that every other student needs and is given a right to.

For my son to be successful every day in school he needs a one on one person he can work with alone or very small settings like 2-3 kids if he could be offered that he can be successful but I’m told that sau6 can’t offer it.

So again yes I agree a tax break could help but for me so could a program for autistic kids. Because they are not troubled kids they are just wired different then what people call the norm.

Sorry for my ramble but I felt maybe if u could hear a story of some kids who need this u would understand why it’s great we approved it

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