Northampton school board members voice support for override proposal
NORTHAMPTON — The proposal by Mayor David J. Narkewicz to put a property tax override before the voters in June is generating support on the nine-member School Committee.
Five of seven school board members who responded to calls from the Gazette on Tuesday said they favor an override to produce additional money for schools and other municipal services.
Two others said they back the strategy, but would withhold a formal endorsement until the mayor fixes a dollar amount to his proposal and says how much of the added tax money generated by an override would go to the schools.
Narkewicz said Tuesday he hopes to announce a dollar amount for an override by sometime next week, though that will depend on state budget allocations that are still in flux. He will ask the City Council to schedule a special municipal election June 25 for the override, asking voters if they approve raising property taxes beyond the limits imposed by Proposition 2½.
At last week’s City Council meeting, the mayor indicated that he will likely propose an override larger than the $1.4 million needed to fill a budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year so that the city does not find itself in the same condition next year.
School board members voicing support for an override are Michael Flynn, Downey Meyer, Howard Moore, Stephanie Pick and Andrew Shelffo.
Meyer said he hopes the mayor’s override proposal will be large enough so that it allows the schools to go beyond filling this year’s budget holes. But even without knowing the dollar figure, “if we want people to believe that the school department needs more money, we need to be on the record saying we support an override,” Meyer said.
Moore said a steady recent decline in state Chapter 70 aid has meant the schools need more money to maintain programs.
“If we want to have the kind of schools we want, we have to pay for it,” Moore said. “Costs are going up faster than revenues and we don’t have any other methods available to change the slope of the line.”
While professing “mixed emotions” about asking residents to back an override, Flynn said he also sees it as the best option for generating needed money for the schools.
“The funding system for our public schools is broken and we all know it’s broken,” Flynn said. “We were all operating under the perception that we’d already hit bottom. But things still haven’t gotten better. And we’ve used up all our reserves.”
Edward Zuchowski, vice chairman of the school board, and Blue DuVal said they would likely support an override, but did not want to declare a public position before the committee meets Thursday when the issue is on the agenda.
Board members Alden Bourne and Lisa Minnick did not immediately return calls and emails from the Gazette on Tuesday seeking reaction to the proposed override.
The committee is scheduled to vote on a proposed $28.2 million school budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 when it meets at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at JFK Middle School.
The latest budget draft anticipates a shortfall of $775,424 for the next fiscal year between predicted revenue and the amount needed to continue services at the current level. To close that gap, administrators have proposed cutting 16 full-time teaching positions (down from an initial 30) and reducing numerous others to part time, some to as little as about one-third time.
Superintendent Brian Salzer said Friday is the deadline for sending layoff notices to school employees.
The budget plan also calls for eliminating busing for students in grades 9 through 12 and raising school lunch prices and athletic fees. Also, the pool at JFK Middle School would no longer be open on weekends.
Shelffo said the possibility of an override makes voting on the school budget less painful because some proposed cuts could be restored later if the ballot measure succeeds.
“If we were talking about the budget without the hope of an override, it would be harder to support,” said Shelffo, who said he received a petition from 50 staff members at Jackson Street School recently asking him to back an override.
Pick, who suggested having the board discuss the override on Thursday, emphasized that members “have to vote a budget whether or not we have an override at this point. And I’m not very happy about that.”
Since 1989, Northampton voters have approved six of eight override questions, including four debt-exclusion overrides for building projects and two general overrides for schools and municipal services.