In the mid-1990’s, the town of Claremont pleaded poverty, insisting that the rest of the state should pony up more money to fund its local schools. The result was the imposition of a wealth-redistribution scheme on the rest of our state. A decade later, Claremont wasn’t looking so poverty-stricken after all.
They started planning for a $10 million recreation center, complete with “a competition pool, teaching pool, elevated track, basketball courts, fitness facility, aerobics room, multi-function rooms, conference room, game room, shower and locker rooms, and kitchen.” The recreation center opened in 2013.
To be fair, 40% of the costs came from private donations. But Claremont taxpayers picked up the other $6 million in construction costs — money they had available only because taxpayers in other towns were helping to pay for their schools.
‘The Claremont Way’
Earlier this week, it was reported that the Claremont school district failed to file paperwork to get federal reimbursement for a school lunch program. What’s worse is that this is the second year in a row that this has happened. Total cost to Claremont taxpayers: $360,000.
On top of that, the Claremont school district is owed about $20,000 by families who have taken advantage of the hot lunch program without paying. Last year the district was owed nearly $30,000 for lunches, but private donors stepped in and covered most of that tab.
So, which is it? Is Claremont so poor that it can’t get along without handouts? Or so rich that it can flush hundreds of thousands of dollars down the toilet, and neglect tens of thousands of dollars in accounts receivable?
What is a school district to do when they’ve just flushed $360,000 down the toilet and their accounts receivable are in arrears? The answer is obvious, of course: spend more money. The Claremont school district is planning to hire new personnel to oversee the food service and to make sure the paperwork gets filed on time.
In the private sector, this kind of negligence gets you fired. In public education, it’s justification for a budget increase.
Claremont’s total school budget is around $32 million. $360K is around 1% of that which is certainly a problem, but perhaps it’s not the problem.
As Martha Beck says, “The way we do anything is the way we do everything.”
There’s good reason to expect to see this same lack of attention to detail — this same lack of focus — this same lack of regard for money collected from taxpayers in Claremont and around the state — in everything the district does, including how it fails to educate its students.
Taken as a whole, these incidents illustrate that the ‘Claremont Way’ of doing anything — and thus everything — is to ignore something important until the problem gets too big to ignore, and then respond to the problem by hiring more people. Which explains how they can have a student-teacher ratio of 11:1, and a per-student cost greater than the tuition at many colleges, while at the same time having fewer than 40% of students performing at proficiency.
Spending Someone Else’s Money on Someone Else
The Claremont Way falls in under category number four: spending someone else’s money on someone else. When you’re spending someone else’s money, you’re not so concerned about saving money. And when you’re spending that money on someone else, you’re not so concerned about the quality of what they get. If things go badly, it’s not really your problem. There’s no accountability.
If we’re talking about spending a few hundred dollars on Christmas shopping, it’s a recipe for disappointment. If we’re talking about spending tens of millions of dollars to educate the next generation of citizens, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Accountability is key. Claremont’s School Board needs to hold its administrators accountable. If it doesn’t, then the district’s voters need to hold the School Board accountable.
For the rest of us that pay taxes in New Hampshire, this should inform any discussion that we have about appeals to double down on the Claremont decision.
[Thanks to Ian Underwood for his input and feedback on this article.]