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Eric Stahlberg III: Northampton should start looking at school budgets

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To the editor:

Recent letters outlined a need to look at Northampton’s expenses before the next tax override is mandated. One letter felt that not enough had been done to scrutinize the entire city’s expense system. I found myself having to somewhat agree, especially when it came to the schools. Another letter highlighted city building utilization. There may be some savings available in this area but it did stir some thoughts. The writer didn’t include school buildings but the city should consider better utilization of these, too. We spent several years and countless meetings by one committee or another just to change the high school start time. Perhaps we should have done the same with school costs.

Beginning with the elementary schools, we have four, each with their administration, service personnel and operating costs have budgets between $2.2 million to $2.5 million each. Could we do the job with three? Preliminary numbers, based on class size, suggests yes with a change in organization.

Two elementary grades in each of three schools. Yes, the traditional elementary school concept would change. Certainly space would have to be evaluated. Busing configurations modified and cost determined. Based on current enrollment class sizes of 22, it seems acceptable. Elementary class sizes now average 18-19. Contracts call for 25. The question is: Is it worth doing the investigation with the potential savings of up to perhaps $1.5 million or more rather than asking for more money from property owners down the road? Over the next four years it could mean an extra $6 million in city coffers.

It would appear based on the recent ruling and potential cost for police and fire contracts and the advent of a new enterprise fund for repair to our storm water system that we have little time to waste. There are many of us who get little or no increase in our revenue stream, and we must support those who seemingly demand an increase for limited funds, so it seems appropriate that we take better care in how the funds are used.

Eric Stahlberg III

Florence

I agree the school system needs a review. I'm retired so the school system is only in my peripheral vision but neighbors suggest there are systemic problems caused by declining population, loss of students to charter schools, unused classrooms, and schools only just acceptable by state standards. I think a five year budget/plan would be helpful. Thanks for sharing a good idea. Fred

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