Guest columnist Gwen Agna: Why I voted for school board budget


Published: 05-12-2024 4:44 PM

I write, on my behalf and only my behalf, to clarify my reason for voting for the level services budget for the Northampton Public Schools.

I did not vote for it because I think there are millions of dollars being socked away irresponsibly by our mayor. I did not vote for it because I think there is much room in any of the city department budgets for cuts. As a long-term resident of Northampton, I know that our city’s strength lies in recognizing that it is made up of many stakeholders, some of whom speak their minds, some of whom do not, and many in between.

I voted, rightly or wrongly, to ask the City Council to weigh in on the schools budget, which is at a crisis point. We knew this was coming and perhaps we, as the School Committee, could be accused of ignoring or kicking the proverbial can down the road. I would also add that other factors should be included in the cause: a pandemic; significant turnover in administration resulting in the loss of the superintendent, the business manager, the curriculum director, the special education director, and three principals; the ongoing lack of revenue from the state due to Proposition 2½, the Student Opportunity Act and Chapter 70; an inflation rate set by the state that does not reflect the actual rate; as well as depleting school choice funds and adding many staff members to meet the changing needs of the students.

But hindsight is 20-20 and we must work together to right our schools ship. Our responsibility as School Committee members is to enlist our community through a strategic plan to do what may seem to some as radical restructuring in how to provide an environmentally safe and educationally sound education for our children.

I am honored to be a member of the Strategic Plan Team, joining principals, teachers, school department administrators, city department heads, a city councilor, community members, the superintendent, and the mayor, led by Albert Johnson-Mussad of the Collaborative for Educational Services.

It is a complex undertaking, given the diverse voices in our community, but as messy and challenging as it is, it is worthy of our effort to bring our residents together in imagining safe, learning-filled, and joyful schools for the children. Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts and ideas as we navigate this critical journey.

Gwen Agna is vice chair of the Northampton School Committee.

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