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Bus contract bids spell budget cuts for Northampton schools

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

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 »

The School Department had hoped to save money by cutting regular bus service to Northampton High School, eliminating an entire tier of the existing three-tier bus system, according to Superintendent Brian Salzer.

However, a low bid of $3.74 million for a five-year contract, received Thursday from Durham School Services of Waterville, Ill., for a new two-tier bus system, worked out to be $225,000 more than the $355,000 budgeted for transportation for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Salzer said.

Transportation for special education students at NHS would not be affected by the change to a two-tier system.

The School Committee is expected to vote on Durham’s bid for a five-year bus contract at its regular meeting Thursday. F.M. Kuzmeskus Inc. of Gill submitted a bid of $3.89 million, according to the School Department.

Meanwhile, school officials will present their spending plan at a City Council budget hearing starting at 5 p.m. today in Council Chambers of the Puchalski Municipal Building.

Salzer said the department’s existing five-year contract with Durham “was extremely competitive” compared to what other school districts were paying five years ago. The new bid means “we have to go back to the drawing board with the FY14 budget to make more cuts,” he said.

The schools are already facing the deepest cuts of all city departments in Mayor David J. Narkewicz’s $81.1 million general fund budget: the equivalent of 11 full-time positions next year. The reductions represent teachers and aides in core subjects, special education and art, music and other electives.

The budget also calls for increases in athletic fees and school lunches and decreased funding for supplies and textbooks.

That picture could change, based on the results of a $2.5 million Proposition 2½ override that voters will decide June 25. If the override passes, Narkewicz has called for providing an additional $1 million to the schools, $726,300 to other city departments and $773,700 for a new stabilization fund.

In an interview Monday, Salzer said “it seems highly unlikely” that busing services could be restored to the high school even if the override passes because of the added cost of the new bus contract. “We still need to bring back teachers and course offerings,” he said.

Salzer said those decisions will be made by the administrative leadership team following the override vote later this month.

If approved, the override would permanently add 79 cents for every $1,000 of assessed home valuation in Northampton, or about $235 annually for an average single-family home valued at $297,323.

Legacy Comments2

Wmasskodokan, you are misinformed. The changed start time costs nothing. It merely shifts the start by 45 minutes. No cost, sports are unaffected, after-school activities are the same, Smith classes continue as before. Changing the start time is a public health issue and the School Committee made the right decision. The busing issue is entirely separate, and it's a shame that we are in the position where we cannot offer busing to an entire school. Maybe if the override passes we can restore the buses. That will not affect the later start time.

Nothing in the article mentions the recent vote by the school committee to change the start time, nor the associated cost of that decision. It appears that changing the starting time of the high school may have economic impacts after all.

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