CLAREMONT — Claremont residents will likely see a marginal but “reasonable” tax increase from the 2021-2022 school budget, due to sizable losses in state revenue and some unanticipated special education costs, according to school officials.
On Wednesday, Jan. 13, the Claremont School District will hold a public hearing to consider a budget proposal of $37,785,000, with $17,038,244 to be raised by taxes. The proposal, which includes no additional warrant articles, has a projected increase of $500,000 from the current year with a tax impact of $0.60 per $100,000 of assessed property.
Claremont School Board Chair Frank Sprague, who served on the budget subcommittee with fellow school board members Jason Benware and Michael Petrin, said the budget number was very reasonable considering the fiscal challenges, particularly a significant loss in revenues in part to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Our overall goal was to come as close to a zero tax impact as we could,” Sprague said. “It turned out to be challenging.”
The school district estimates a loss of $392,000 in state adequacy aid, according to SAU 6 School District Finance Director Richard Seaman.
In a phone interview with the Eagle Times, Sprague explained the loss in adequacy aid is primarily due to the number of students who switched to homeschool during the ongoing pandemic. The state’s adequacy aid formula is calculated based on per pupil enrollment data. .
Sprague said he is hopeful that a collaborative initiative by municipal leaders, including Clarenont Mayor Charlene Lovett, will persuade the state to restore these funds.
On the expense side, the school district reports an unanticipated cost of $500,000 to place two high school students with severe needs in an out-of-district residential program, Seaman said.
“What’s interesting is that at the elementary level, we have seen out-of-district placements go down to almost zero, as a result of the programs we have already put into place,” Seaman said. “However, some of the kids from the elementary have moved to the high school, so we are seeing some of the outplacement expenses being categorized at the middle school and at the high school there is a very significant increase.”
Some of this cost will be defraying using funds from the $650,000 special education trust that voters approved last December.
Seaman said the budget will use $400,000 to support or build programs for students with special needs, such as the elementary school autism program, which the school district created this year. The program, which costs $190,000 per year to operate, enabled the school district to return three students from out-of-district placements, yielding a gross savings of $270,000 in tuition and transportation expenses.
Some of the trust will help fund a self-contained program at Bluff Elementary for students whose behavior challenges are too severe for the traditional classroom environment.
Board member Heather Whitney questioned how the school district was using some of these funds, which appear to deviate from the stated plan to the voters last year.
Voters were told the programs this fund would create would become self-sustaining by saving school district costs for outplacements and even generate revenue through tuitions from other school districts.
“I just want to make sure, are we using this $400,000 to expand the [Bluff] program or are we using it to offset those unexpected out-of-district placements?” Whitney asked. “I just want to make sure we are being on the up and up about it.”
Superintendent Michael Tempesta said that this money will be used toward “both” purposes.
Tempesta said some of the $400,000 will also go toward developing a high school alternative education program, as intended under the fund. However, the district has focused first on developing programs at the elementary level, as working with children during their prime years of development has proven more effective long-term.
But the school district also needs to fund appropriate placements for these two students, who went through the elementary system before the interventionary programs existed and whose needs now are beyond any program that Stevens High School could provide, Tempesta said.
“We hate to go into that fund unless we need to,” Tempesta said. “But we need to.”
The school district had initially proposed a budget with a $2.00 increase to the tax rate, but the administration made additional cuts to meet the budget subcommittee’s satisfaction, Seaman said.
To reduce the tax impact, the school district plans to cut eight classroom positions, for an estimated reduction of $584,000, according to Seaman. These positions, which have not been officially determined, will include ones cut through arbitration or consolidation.
“These are not gimmies or [vacant] positions that were just sitting there,” Seaman said. “Each one of these positions is going to require either a movement of personnel, movement of class size or some other piece in order to have them take place.”
The proposed budget would also cease its funding share to the One-4-All program, a family resource center which provides early child education, parenting classes and additional supports and resources. The One-4-All also receives funding through grants and donations.