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Northampton school board OKs budget, backs override

The Northampton School Committee on Thursday unanimously backed the proposal by Mayor David J. Narkewicz to have voters decide a property tax override in June. Narkowicz is seen here during a budget presentation in March. 
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

The Northampton School Committee on Thursday unanimously backed the proposal by Mayor David J. Narkewicz to have voters decide a property tax override in June. Narkowicz is seen here during a budget presentation in March. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

The total spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 represents a fraction of a percentage point increase over the current year’s school budget of $28.34 million.

In a decision that followed immediately after the budget vote, board members unanimously backed Mayor David J. Narkewicz’s call for a property tax override to generate funds for schools and other municipal services.

Committee member Downey Meyer noted that state and local revenues have not kept pace with increases in the cost of school programs over the last several years.

“We’ve done everything we can short of an override. It’s the last tool we have,” he said.

“This has to be the toughest budget I’ve ever voted on,” said committee Vice Chairman Edward Zuchowski. “An override could bring back some of those positions we’ve lost.”

The mayor has not yet announced a dollar figure for an override, which he has proposed letting voters decide in June at a special municipal election. The City Council is scheduled to vote on Narkewicz’s override proposal April 18.

The schools budget, which Superintendent Brian Salzer described as “balanced, yet austere,” was approved by a vote of 7-2, with one abstention Thursday.

Voting for the plan were Narkewicz and committee members Zuchowski, Alden Bourne, Michael Flynn, Howard Moore, Lisa Minnick and Andrew Shelffo. Committee members Meyer and Blue DuVal voted against the budget. Stephanie Pick abstained, without offering any reasons for doing so.

The spending plan is based on anticipated city funding of $24.45 milllion in 2014, an increase of 1 percent over last year’s funding of $24 million and $450,000 more than an initial level-funded total. Narkewicz announced the added money for the schools last month as a result of savings on city employee health benefits.

The schools also anticipate a less than 1 percent increase in state aid dollars for the coming fiscal year, from $6.95 million to $7 million in 2014, according to the budget book presented to the school board Thursday.

Among the increases contained in the plan are $743,000 to cover collective bargaining agreements, $50,000 for special education services and $30,000 to offset rising costs of food services and athletics programs.

The budget contains $773,403 in cuts to balance the bottom line, including eliminating 15 full-time teaching positions and reducing many others to part-time — some to as little as one-third time.

Other cuts include ending busing for students in grades 9-12, closing the JFK pool on weekends to save custodial services and reducing the director of academic effectiveness position to part-time.

The budget also raises school lunch fees from $2.50 to $2.75 and athletic fees from $150 to $175 per sport.

In a discussion before the vote, DuVal expressed concerns about cuts to arts and electives programs at Northampton High School. The budget calls for reducing art, photography, band, choral and theater teaching positions at NHS to part-time.

“I believe arts education is critical to leveling the playing field for students,” DuVal said, to applause from the sparse audience at Thursday’s board meeting. “It’s not a frill. It’s central to helping students find out who they are and think critically.”

Meyer asked how many teachers whose positions have been reduced to part-time will stay on in Northampton schools.

Salzer replied, “When you make cuts like these, either people stay in hopes their positions will be restored or, these are high-quality people who will get offers elsewhere. That will be a likely result of these cuts.”

The complete 2014 schools budget will be posted online on the district’s website, www.northampton-k12.us.

Legacy Comments1

When will this city begin to tax non-profits? Smith College, the churches... and we live in non-profit central! No one wants to do it, but when you have a city this size with all this wealth, and untaxed buildings are on prime property, maybe it's time to consider it. It is not fair to continuously ask more of the citizens of Northampton year after year. Our mayor needs to look at alternative sources other than homeowners. And before someone points it out, yes I know that Smith College is the highest tax payer in the city. However, they pay next to nothing compared to the amount of money they would pay if they got taxed on all of their property.

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