CLAREMONT — Claremont voters will return to Stevens High School Auditorium on Thursday, Dec. 12 to revote on the $650,000 funding appropriation question to alleviate concerns about whether the district satisfied state requirements when posting notice for the original Nov. 21 meeting.
Two weeks ago, Claremont residents approved — by an overwhelming majority — to appropriate $650,000 in restored stabilization grant funds to create and expand special education programs at a special meeting held on Thursday, Nov. 21. Pending voter approval, the district would spend the money — half of the $1.3 million it received from the state — to fund three special education programs, which the district aims to save considerable taxpayer money and even provide new revenue from tuitioning in students from other districts.
According to the district’s attorney Matthew Upton, in a statement read by Claremont School Board Chair Frank Sprague at a public hearing last night the New Hampshire Department of Revenue recommends that the school board hold another special meeting because the district did not post a notice of the Nov. 21 meeting on the district or SAU website within seven days of the meeting. While the district had posted physical notices of the meeting at Stevens High School, the SAU building and City Hall, a notice did not appear on the school system’s website until the Eagle Times raised the absence to the administration’s attention, six days before the meeting.
According to NH 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.
At a board meeting on Nov. 20, Upton said that arguably the school district wasn’t legally obligated to post a notice online because technically the Claremont School District doesn’t have its own website. That website belongs to the SAU, which Upton said “is a different legal entity.”
However, the board took Upton’s recommendation to schedule a contingency meeting on Dec. 12.
A provision under NH RSA 40:16 allows a school district to hold a second meeting “to cure any alleged defects in the posting,” according to Upton. He said the legislature created this provision to allow school districts to correct errors in the process while continuing with the outcomes.
“While the school board still questions whether there is a legal requirement for the district to post notices on the SAU website, it also felt that using this process would ensure transparency and preserve the integrity of the vote,” Sprague read from Upton’s statement.
The new special meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Stevens High School Auditorium next Thursday. After a short presentation by Claremont Superintendent Michael Tempesta to explain how the district would like to use the funding, Claremont residents will have the opportunity to speak to the proposal or ask questions. After public discussion, residents will vote whether or not to appropriate the funding to the district for special education programming.
If voters reject the proposal, the money would return to taxpayers in the form of a tax offset in the 2020-21 school budget.
Eligible Claremont voters may participate in the Dec. 12 meeting regardless of whether they voted or not in the Nov. 21 meeting. But, district Secretary Mary Woodman said that residents who registered in Claremont after Nov. 21 would not be eligible.