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Northampton School Committee OKs spending plan with $985K from override

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The 5-1 vote to allocate an additional $985,000 from last week’s successful $2.5 million Proposition 2½ override to the school department’s budget also bolsters the district’s English language learner and special education services, including at Bridge Street School.

Money for school supplies and textbooks, an assistant high school principal and districtwide custodian are also among the earlier proposed cuts that have been restored with new override money. The restoration of teachers’ hours at Jackson Street School means three smaller fifth-grade classrooms instead of two larger ones. Some positions and hours were reduced or eliminated for several clerical and support service positions through restructuring, including education team leaders in the elementary schools.

“I feel that this proposal is in much better shape than last week,” Superintendent Brian Salzer told the School Committee. “We’ve had a lot of conversations and a lot of work to make this budget what it is tonight.”

Committee member Blue DuVal cast the dissenting vote, objecting to cuts to the hours of some staff in the district, in particular a photography and video technology teacher at the high school. “I would like to see it all restored,” Duval said.

Committee member Howard Moore also expressed concerns about cutting the video and photography teacher’s hours from full-time by a third. The hours should not be cut, he said, simply because enrollments may be lower in such classes, but also because it can lead to less flexibility for students to take such electives.

“It is really, really far away from our purpose as a school district,” Moore said.

Salzer said the decision to cut the hours of the teacher was a curriculum decision and it comes at a time when the high school is building its computer science programs, which have seen a growing demand among students. About 50 students signed up for two new computer science courses in the past year, he noted.

“The direction is to bring in more technology,” Salzer said. “We had to make some difficult decisions on what we could bring back.”

“I think we have to separate the School Committee from these administrative choices,” he added later in the discussion.

Salzer’s assessment of the push toward more computer science was backed by high school Principal Bryan Lombardi and outgoing principal Nancy Athas.

“The kids at Northampton High are really hungry to try something new,” Athas told the School Committee.

Other restored programs in the budget with the $985,000 in override money include positions in art, music and theater programs as well as physical education, particularly at the high school and at JFK Middle School.

Committee member Stephanie Pick said she was pleased with the work that had gone into the revised budget and the restoration of arts programs.

“We’re not back to where we were years ago,” Pick said. “I hope we can move in that direction.”

As it moves forward, Salzer said, the school department needs to investigate efficiencies in busing and class scheduling so that students have more flexibility to take electives. He also suggested the School Committee take a closer look at technology through its curriculum subcommittee and work with high school administrators on this developing area.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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