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John Paradis: The frugal ‘yes’ voter on Northampton override

We did our shopping. We researched high schools all over Massachusetts, visiting schools from the North Shore to the Nashoba Valley to eventually Northampton. Sure, we looked at MCAS scores but we also talked to a lot of people. And we decided to live here because we wanted the best possible public high school education and most welcoming environment for our kids.

Now, four years later, we believe emphatically that we made the right choice.

I was thinking about that decision two weekends ago during Northampton High School’s graduation ceremony. I was there, of course, because my daughter was graduating. But the day was also an affirmation of everything that is incredible about our high school — from the Northamptones signing the National Anthem to the best rendition I have ever heard of “It’s Time” to thoughtful and funny speeches by faculty and students.

Although there was no direct mention of the proposed tax override, it was definitely a backdrop. At a time when all public schools across the Commonwealth are facing cuts, and when it’s the arts that suffer the most when the budget axe falls, the override was on a lot of minds.

How could it not be? Like a lot of parents, the continual erosion of performing arts is troublesome to me. I don’t understand it when people feel that theater and music is something you can do on the side, as a second subject.

So it was a home run moment for me when Kate Todhunter, the history teacher who received this year’s Mary Gray Teacher of the Year Award, provided this bull’s-eye statement for all the assembled parents and grandparents: “Northampton High School students know better than anyone that a class in band is as essential as a class in history or physics.” When the Class of 2013 rose and walked out from Smith College’s John M. Greene Hall, time flashed before me, seeing our kids as now young adults.

I said to myself: “To all of you, all of you graduates, thank you for validating for all of us the potential of the public school and thank you to Northampton.” Thank you for continuing an enduring American tradition of free, compulsory education that developed out of a law enacted in Massachusetts more than 378 years ago.

What will our children say of Northampton High School and our city’s commitment to public education in decades to come?

Will they say we awoke to the challenge? That we encouraged future innovators, future inventors and continued our Yankee ingenuity legacy? That we gave free rein to the minds of our young? That we retained the best in teaching talent? That we ensured our children could get to school safely and efficiently?

To reach the American dream, education is the ladder. It is up to all of us to ensure our kids can climb it as far as they can.

I am far from a tax-and-spend bleeding heart — far from it. I was raised by parents born during the Great Depression and I’m as frugal as frugal can be. But my mom and dad were both public school teachers, and they also taught me that you don’t skimp on our schools and on our future.

All across Massachusetts, many students go to school and suffer because their public schools don’t offer enough classes, have enough textbooks, or hire enough certified teachers.

In Massachusetts and other states, schools have lost theater, music, art, and sports — programs that can keep discouraged students in school.

In these difficult economic times, the argument for the humanities can sound, to some, impractical and elitist. Without the humanities, though, I worry that students won’t develop the kind of critical thinking, imagination and empathy necessary to solve the most pressing problems facing future generations.

Even more egregious is cutting school transportation. If students can’t get to school, they won’t go to school, and they won’t graduate. Eliminating bus service to the high school will only increase the dropout rate, which not only has great social impact, but major long-term economic consequences.

It’s undeniable that a community is better off by making a deep commitment to education. Weak public school educations limit future vocational and college opportunities, which can limit job opportunities, which can limit earnings, which can limit home buying, which can cripple a family’s ability to build wealth and invest more in the education of the next generation. It’s a chain of consequences.

Education is the answer, and it requires everyone’s full commitment. I’m voting yes June 25.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a monthly column that appears on the second Friday. He is the communications director for the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.

massmisa - keep it going...you've got a long way to go until you hit the $35 million mark! But I'll give you an A for trying.

Please note Mr. Paradis' opening statement, "When I retired from the Air Force in 2009, my family could choose ANY place to live." Mr. Paradis, we don't all enjoy the same luxury, though it does not mean that we do not care about our children. Many of us long-timers are all too familiar with the City's assorted spending habits, not to mention politics. It's time for better management.

It is not about city management. We have lost $35 million dollars in STATE AID over the last 10 years. You cannot nit pick your way out of this. Please, please, please educate yourself on the issue and learn the FACTS. Go read the mayor's budget, all 255 pages are posted on the internet for your reading pleasure. Go to http://yesnorthampton.org and read what is posted there.

Thank you very much but I already have my own copy. Anyway, if you don't mind, what is your name, chezdan9? Might I know you? Have we already met?

A Google search for chezdan9 will help you figure it out. ;) And chezdan, no one is trying to raise 35 million dollars. Not by the override, and not by our suggestions of expenses to cut to avoid the override. We are simply stating that without unwanted pet projects (the wants), we would not need an override to fund the necessities (the needs). There needs to be some accountability for those who decide that they can't fund our school system, but can find the money for things that no one needs.

Here, Theresa - I'll save you the trouble. My name is Dan Williams. I am a Northampton resident and I am not afraid to stand behind any statement I make. So, Theresa, massmisa - what are your names? Do you have the courage to out yourself?

Thank you for the google tip, Theresa. Apparently there is more than one chezdan9. :(

The City already allocates over 60% of its entire budget for the school system -- well over half -- with an abundance of waste evident in the remaining portion. The City needs to better manage its funds not demand more, repeatedly using the school system as its means.

What is the "abundance of waste" you talk about? Please provide details.

There are things they could cut or change immediately. For starters: Remove $400+K STIPENDS paid to firefighters. (These are in addition to wages, benefits, and pensions., approved by the Higgins administration.) Trade in brand-new police SUVs for standard, traditional sedans. Surplus all parking division vehicles except for plows, effectively eliminating insurance and maintenance costs as well. All paid parking is currently in downtown Northampton. There is no need for vehicles other than maybe a plow for the garage. Deaccession the $40K art hanging on the downtown rail trail bridge. Ditch the latest traffic study (Bridge Road) and have police patrols or monitoring instead. Utilize Massachusetts’ Com-PASS system for procurement. Institute line-item budget. Moratorium on purchase of conservation land. Reconsider health insurance benefits paid to city councilors. Also related to the Com-PASS suggestion, ditch the paid consultants. Instead, consult with and solicit bids from actual service providers.

Exactly! Why is it so easy for us to see this, but not the mayor or city council?

Absolutely right!

Thank you.

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