Amended Claremont School Budget Offsets Large Cuts

Feb 9, 2018

The city of Claremont
Credit NHPR Staff

Voters approved an additional $307,153 to the proposed budget for Claremont schools Thursday night.

The amendment will offset a large part of cuts made to the proposed budget in January. Now the operating budget for the schools will be cut by only $22,000 compared to almost $340,000.

The budget will now go to the annual school district vote in March.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Stevens High School Principal Pat Barry who attended the deliberative session.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

Can you describe the scene for us last night? This was not the expected outcome was it?

No. I think it's a good outcome. It definitely represents a compromise by both sides. When you look at the entirety of the evening, I think it was a good outcome for the schools and I think those who were worried about their tax rate left feeling like they had been able to compromise.

This is a perennial issue, I know, obviously talking about property taxes and school budgets. Was there more public input than normal on this particular budget?

Absolutely. This is my fourth year in the district and the first year that we've held it in the high school auditorium instead of the community room at the tech center, which maybe holds about 50 people comfortably. And we had well over about 150 that showed up last night. So three times what I've seen in past deliberative sessions.

Now you said this is a compromise, but there will be cuts. What are those cuts going to mean for your school?

We'll have to see about that. We'll have to sit back as an administrative team and work with the superintendent and assistant superintendent, and now [kind of re-calibrate] knowing what the two numbers are that are on the budget, on the ballot for March, what that might look like. And I think it's too early to prognosticate about what those cuts might look like, but given that there's still a substantial slash to last year's budget, it will mean a cut in services and most likely personnel.

Advocates for the cuts say that city taxes in Claremont are just simply unaffordable now for many residents. Can you empathize with that position?

Absolutely. It's a catch-22 here in Claremont. We need to broaden the tax base. We need to bring in business. We need to increase revenue. And a large part of that is on the backs of a good school system. And yet the schools represent a portion of one's tax bill. And so you know, my father used to say you cut it, and you cut, and it's still too short. Convincing folks that an investment in the schools will reap all of those other things, and eventually be a major part of the economic turnaround that Claremont needs, and is in Claremont's future, it's sometimes a tough sell. Because your tax bill is right in front of you, and these supposed remedies are sometimes far in the future. But that's our goal, is to continue to fight and continue to convince the residents of Claremont that like any other town in New Hampshire, or any other city, our schools and the product of our schools, a skilled workforce and students ready to go off to postsecondary education, and who are well skilled in a variety of things, are the answer to an economic future for Claremont as in anywhere else.

Claremont of course was the center point of a major lawsuit years ago around state funding for schools in New Hampshire. After that suit, the state made changes to try to make education more equitable across districts. But has that worked in your opinion?

No, not at all. We haven't addressed this since 1997 when the Supreme Court came down with this ruling. We're the poster child for inequitable funding in the state of New Hampshire, and that the way in which we raise funds for education is unconstitutional. The state legislature has not addressed that. They've come up with band-aids and formulas, but no fixes and we're no better off now than we were. Especially now that the state is shuffling off hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars onto municipalities. We need to change the way we do business and the way in which we raise funds for education and everything else in the state.