CLAREMONT — The Claremont School Board indicated Wednesday that the special meeting tonight will take place as planned.
The meeting will serve as a platform for Claremont voters to consider whether to approve $650,000 in unanticipated state aid to create a Special Education Expendable Trust Fund to expand special and alternative education and programming the district.
The special meeting will be held this evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Stevens High School Auditorium.
To address concerns whether the school district properly posted notice of the special meeting according to state guidelines, the district invited their legal counsel, attorney Matthew Upton, to address the issue.
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 before 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.
Upton said that there is “a strong argument” that Claremont did not violate the statute because technically the Claremont School District does not have its own website.
“There actually isn’t a Claremont school website,” Upton said. “There’s an SAU 6 website. But SAU 6 is a different legal entity.”
Upton did not, however, address the claim reported in Friday’s Eagle Times story that the district’s posting of the special meeting in the Nov. 12 edition of the Eagle Times did not meet the state’s requirement because the post did not include a copy of the warrant.
Upton said that he has been in discussion with the State Department of Revenue Administration, who told him the district should proceed with the scheduled meeting. He elaborated that NH RSA 40:16 allows districts to hold a second meeting to “cure any alleged defects in the posting.” This provision was put into place to allow school districts to correct errors while continuing with outcomes, according to the attorney.
The school board voted unanimously to schedule a second special meeting on Dec. 12, pursuant to RSA 40:16.
The Claremont School District did not post notice of the warrant on its website until Friday afternoon, after the Eagle Times notified Assistant Superintendent Donna Magoon of the state statute. While the district had posted a notice of the special meeting in the Eagle Times on Nov. 12, that announcement did not include a copy of the warrant.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board held approximately a 25-minute non-public session following citizens comments and an update about the district’s current financial audit.
After coming out of the non-public session, the board proceeded with a presentation by Superintendent Michael Tempesta about the special education programs he plans to discuss with the public at the special meeting.
Special education program presentation
If voters approve the warrant question the district aims to create or expand at least three new special education programs: a high school alternative program that would help students through academic credit recovery, job placement and mentorship ($293,000); expanding the Pride program ($182,000); and an autism program for students between ages 7 and 13 ($293,000).
Tempesta said that all these programs would aim to raise revenue for the district by bringing in tuition students from other districts. He projected that the second pride classroom could accommodate up to eight tuition students, the autism program up to six tuition students and the alternative program could accommodate at least six students.
The superintendent also estimated that these programs could bring a total revenue of more than $1.3 million annually through tuition.
Tempesta elaborated that these are realistic revenue projections to him, based on his background building similar programs in Massachusetts.
“We went from $900,000 in tuition students to $3.6 million in tuition in just two-and-a-half years,” Tempesta said. “It’s a tried and true recipe, not something we cooked up in a lab.”
In the case of the autism program, Tempesta said there is a lack of such programs to meet the need throughout the region. Many students in neighboring communities, like Claremont students, have to travel an hour or more by bus to a specialized school that can service their needs. Establishing these programs would also enable Claremont to service more of its students in-district, rather than paying costly tuition to private schools, according to Tempesta.
Board member Heather Whitney said that many people in the community do not seem to understand that the district is already paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for the same Claremont students that these programs would hope to serve.
“Expanding these programs does not mean that we will expand our overall budget, because we are already paying for these student education right now,” Whitney said.
Whitney also said that if Claremont provided these services in the district, the Medicaid money that follows those students to fund their services would stay in Claremont.
Ed. Note, Nov. 21, 2019 - The attorney's name was identified as Matthew Upton.