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Northampton schools propose cutting teachers, raising fees

  • SARAH CROSBY

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • One of the budget strategies still on the table for the Northampton schools is cutting busing to the high school. Busses line up outside of Northampton High School on March 5, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    One of the budget strategies still on the table for the Northampton schools is cutting busing to the high school. Busses line up outside of Northampton High School on March 5, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • One of the budget strategies still on the table for the Northampton schools is cutting busing to the high school. Busses line up outside of Northampton High School on March 5, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    One of the budget strategies still on the table for the Northampton schools is cutting busing to the high school. Busses line up outside of Northampton High School on March 5, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH CROSBY
  • One of the budget strategies still on the table for the Northampton schools is cutting busing to the high school. Busses line up outside of Northampton High School on March 5, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • One of the budget strategies still on the table for the Northampton schools is cutting busing to the high school. Busses line up outside of Northampton High School on March 5, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

NORTHAMPTON — To balance the budget for the coming fiscal year, city school leaders say they may have to cut as many as 23 full-time teaching positions districtwide and pursue other strategies, such as eliminating bus service to Northampton High School and raising school lunch prices and athletic fees.

City school officials have developed a proposed budget for next year of $28.17 million, but they say anticipated revenue leaves schools with a potential $365,000 shortfall. The current year’s school department budget tallied up at $28.34 million, which means the proposed plan for next year represents a fraction of a percentage-point decrease.

Because the plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 factors in fixed increases in collective bargaining agreements, a new bus contract, special education services and other mandated costs, there is a shortfall of more than $365,000, according to Superintendent Brian Salzer, which will require cuts elsewhere in the budget.

“There’s only one way we can address that, by reducing staff,” he said. “The city is strapped for money, as well. So, we don’t foresee any more funding coming our way.”

Mayor David J. Narkewicz said as much at last week’s School Committee meeting.

“I’ve got a gap of between $350,000 and $400,000 and we’re talking about layoffs in individual departments,” he told board members. “This is a revenue issue and I don’t have a lot of good news on that front.”

Narkewicz has asked all departments to submit level-funded plans for next year, meaning no increase in the bottom line.

The 2014 schools budget anticipates no increase in current city funding of $24 million and less than a 1 percent increase in state aid dollars, from $6.95 million to $7 million.

School leaders expect state and local government appropriations to the Northampton schools will total $24.76 million next year, according to the school department, a 0.29 percent rise over 2013.

What could be lost

Under a draft budget plan for the schools, staff reductions would be made across all grade levels next year, first through attrition and then by reducing positions, Salzer said. Decisions have yet to be made about how many of the 23 full-time positions now slated for cuts will be administrators, teachers or support professionals, he said.

At least eight of the positions proposed for elimination would be in regular education — four at the elementary schools and four at NHS — and six would be in special education, according to the draft. The middle school would lose the equivalent of three reading teachers next year.

Members of local school councils expressed concern about the impact on class sizes and course offerings in city schools of cutting what amounts to 9 percent of the district’s teaching staff.

“Doing the same with less people seems hard — impossible, really.” said Mandy Gerry, a parent and longtime member of the Bridge Street School Council, who is secretary to the school department’s Early Childhood program.

Sharon Saline, a member of the NHS School Council, said members were “distressed” by the draft plan.

“We already have AP classes with 30 kids in them,” she said. “And think of how much more work this will mean our teachers will have to do outside of class.”

School Committee Chairman Edward Zuchowski, who heads the board’s Budget and Property Subcommittee, said Northampton lacks the cushion of federal stimulus funds or school choice reserves that have been used to fill budget shortfalls in previous years.

The $69,000 the schools expect to receive in state Chapter 70 aid on top of the same level of city funding as last year, “really doesn’t make a dent in the gap the superintendent is projecting,” he said.

On the revenue side, the draft budget also includes $1.3 million in expected grant revenue and $2.8 million from fees and other accounts in 2014.

The $1.27 million in budget increases in the school department’s draft includes:

∎ $727,000 in salary increases called for in the district’s contract with the Northampton Association of School Employees;

∎ $95,000 to cover costs of a new bus contract;

∎ $250,000 for special education services;

∎ $5,000 for required AP biology textbooks at NHS;

∎ $30,000 to offset anticipated cost increases in school lunch and school athletics programs;

∎ $20,000 for a van to transport technology equipment; and

∎ $35,000 to make up for a cut in state aid to schools in Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to address a looming state budget deficit.

To balance the budget, Northampton school leaders developed strategies they hope “will keep cuts away from the classroom,” according to Zuchowski. For example, reducing bus service to the high school would save $47,000 and raising school lunch prices would save another $15,000, according to the draft plan.

A proposal to begin charging for full-day public kindergarten in Northampton — which the school department estimates would save $288,000 in 2014 — was rejected by School Committee members at their meeting last week.

“Early education is critical,” board member Michael Flynn said at that meeting. “If you start the pattern where there’s a discrepancy, it doesn’t go away and it’s very hard to make up that ground.”

Saline of the NHS School Council also voiced concern about the proposal to eliminate bus service at the high school.

“We want to make sure every student who has to go to school can get there and we don’t know what this would look like,” she said.

On Tuesday, Salzer was scheduled to meet with school principals and the Budget and Property Subommittee was gathering with school councils to discuss the latest budget draft and strategies for filling the gaps.

Under terms of the new city Charter, the School Committee must submit a budget to City Council by the end of the month — far earlier than last year’s June deadline. The school board is set to discuss the budget at its March 14 meeting and vote on a plan to send to City Council March 28.

Legacy Comments1

And yet, our superintendent just got a raise... If he needs to cut back so much, maybe he should man up and start with himself. Let's see him work in a classroom with 30 students. Better yet- let's see him work in a Special Education classroom that is already lacking in staff and see what it will be like first hand with even less staff! This won't just hurt employees- this is going to deeply hurt our city's most vulnerable children. It's a domino effect. Not enough staff for those with the greatest needs, and then the students who are on track suddenly become needy too. This is a dirty, vicious cycle. I hope it doesn't come to that.

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