Smith Vocational school leaders amend budget to match Northampton mayor’s plan
NORTHAMPTON — Resolving for now a dispute with Mayor David J. Narkewicz, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School officials this week approved a budget in line with the mayor’s spending plan.
Earlier this spring, vocational school trustees approved an $8.32 million budget for fiscal 2014 that called for $6.24 million from the city — $80,431 more than the amount Narkewicz has proposed for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The mayor, who is a member of the board of trustees, voted against that plan.
Trustees Tuesday voted to amend the vocational school’s budget by eliminating two technology positions left open due to recent resignations and reducing a development coordinator position from full-time to part-time.
At the meeting, Narkewicz said he appreciated the move by the trustees, but added, “I am concerned about how this is being framed, that there are cuts being made.”
He noted that Smith Vocational’s amended budget does not include layoffs or program cuts for the coming year.
“You have added $40,000 for football and volleyball programs,” he said. “In real terms, this is a 6.7 percent increase over the current fiscal year.”
John Cotton, a Florence resident who is chairman of the vocational school’s trustees, replied that the board followed the budget process laid out in the will of Oliver Smith, whose 1845 bequest created the school.
“From the budget we were working from, this is a reduction,” Cotton said.
The move does not resolve a larger disagreement between Narkewicz and Smith Vocational leaders over the level of city funding for the school and its unique governance structure.
Unlike all other vocational schools in Massachusetts that operate as either their own regional districts or part of a municipal school district, Smith Vocational is an independent city high school.
Superintendent Jeffrey Peterson has said Northampton is violating state law by not providing his school the full amount required in a formula that sets a minimum local contribution to schools.
Under that formula, Peterson has said the city should allocate $1.6 million to Smith Vocational next year — about $172,000 more than Narkewicz proposed — or face state penalties.
Narkewicz cites a tacit agreement between the city and school under which Smith Vocational has accepted funding below state minimums in some years because Northampton also provides money for employee health insurance and capital improvements.
Both sides claim their arguments are backed up by the state.
Narkewicz has said he is seeking City Council backing for special state legislation to make Smith Vocational part of the Northampton public schools. Such a change — which Narkewicz said he will seek sometime after the current budget season has ended — would mean the vocational school’s funding would be determined by the Northampton School Committee.