CLAREMONT — By a vote of 70-12, Claremont residents reaffirmed their support to appropriate $650,000 in unanticipated state aid to create and expand special education programs at a second special meeting Thursday night.
Residents returned to Stevens High School auditorium to vote whether to ratify the decision by voters on Nov. 21, who approved, by an overwhelming majority, a proposal by the Claremont School Board to spend half of the $1.3 million in unanticipated state aid it received in September. It was determined that the money would 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. These programs will also allow Claremont to teach several children in-district who would otherwise need to be tuitioned out to specialized private schools, whose annual costs average $90,000 or greater.
The Claremont School Board held a second special meeting to correct a potential “deficiency” regarding the posting of notice for the Nov. 21 meeting. According to N.H. RSA 197:3-a, Special Meeting for Change in Education Funding, two notices, with the warrant in its entirety, must be posted at least seven days prior to the meeting. The RSA states one notice must be posted on the school district’s website, “if one exists,” and a second in a local newspaper.
The school district’s attorney Matthew Upton explained to voters last night that while the district had posted physical notices of the meeting on public buildings, a notice was not posted on the school system’s website until six days before the meeting, which the district posted when the issue came to the district’s attention.
The New Hampshire Department of Revenue recommended that the district hold a second meeting, under N.H. RSA 40:16, to “cure any defects” in the procedure. A provision under N.H. RSA 40:16 allows a school district to hold a second meeting to correct errors in the process without having to redo the entire process.
The question posed to voters last night was whether or not to ratify the vote cast on Nov. 21.
Proponents for the funding said this money provides the city with a critical opportunity to recapture hundreds of thousands of dollars it sends out of the district and potentially generate its own streams of revenue.
“This will give us money to offset our expenses without putting an additional burden on taxpayers,” Claremont School Board Chair Frank Sprague told the voters. “From a business point of view, anyone who looks at this model will see that this is a pretty good investment.”
Resident Lloyd Mann spoke against the proposal, saying that the state intended for the money to go back to the voters.
“This money is being returned to the taxpayers for the purpose of tax relief,” Mann said. “If we don’t use it for this purpose, the state may decide we really appreciate their decision to help the taxpayers of Claremont.”
Claremont School Board member Jason Benware disagreed with Mann’s claim that the state legislature specified the money’s purpose for tax relief or that there would be repercussions by using it for the schools.
“If legislators are going to punish us for doing something proactive, to save us money over time, they don’t deserve to be in Concord to begin with,” Benware said.
Resident Cassie Burke, the mother of an autistic child, said that without the autism program this money will fund, her son will have to be sent out of district.
“I pay taxes just like anyone else here,” Burke said. “I get it. But how can I look at my son and say that the taxpayers wanted money more than your education? He plays football. He has friends here he has grown up with. I understand that we’re asking a lot... But if we don’t do it now, we’re going to do it later, because parents [of children with special needs] feel that children ought to be here along with everyone else.”