Northampton school superintendent lays out budget scenarios that hinge on override 

  • Northampton School Superintendent John Provost. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • NORTHAMPTON CITY HALL. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO.

Staff Writer
Published: 2/28/2020 1:25:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As residents are weighing the $2.5 million Proposition 2½ override question on Tuesday’s ballot, more details emerged on Thursday night about how the vote’s outcome would affect the schools.

At what Superintendent John Provost said he considers each year to be “the most important meeting on the School Committee’s calendar,” he presented an initial budget and detailed two possible scenarios depending on the outcome of the override.

A failed override would leave the district with a $591,000 shortfall in next year’s budget, he said. If that happens, he is proposing cutting $5,000 from the robotics program, a high school English teacher, eliminating the Garden Classrooms program and cutting $21,000 in athletic transportation and assistant coaching costs. The complete list can be found on the district’s website.

“This is a pretty lengthy list if the override fails,” School Committee member Lonnie Kaufman said of the proposed cuts.

“It’s painful to hear about,” committee member Rebecca Busansky said.

The school budget would increase by about 3.5% even if the override fails, and some proposed additions would remain, including adding educational support professionals to first-grade classrooms and a nurse for prekindergarten.

If the override passes, the school district’s budget would increase by about 5.5%, and additions would include a teacher at Leeds Elementary School, professional development for specialized reading instruction, a part-time art teacher and a family/student engagement coordinator.

Provost suggested some cuts regardless of the override’s outcome, including 2.5 special education teacher positions in the elementary schools and at least one exploratory teacher at JFK Middle School. Some committee members expressed concern about cutting these positions.

The outcome of the override vote will impact the school district in future years, too, Provost said. If the override passes, Provost said, “We believe we’ll be able to maintain fiscal stability year after year through the fiscal year 2023.” There may be changes to the budget, he said, “but it will be basically stable.”

If the override fails, Provost said, cuts in the coming years would be deeper. “This time next year,” he told the committee, “I would be coming to you for $780,00 in cuts with no additions. The following year, I’d be asking for $1.7 million of cuts with no additions.”

Education takes up the largest portion of the city’s budget. In the current fiscal 2020 budget, $39.4 million of the $100.4 million general fund expenditures go toward education. As Mayor David Narkewicz has said, “The largest departments would obviously have a larger share in any reductions to the overall general fund budgets. That’s just how the mathematics work.”

At Thursday’s meeting, members questioned Provost about specific additions and deletions in the budget, and several members said they wanted to hear more input on the proposals from the public and school staff.

Provost said that the school budget now enters a month-long public comment period, and he anticipates a committee vote on it later next month. The school budget must be approved by the School Committee by April 15 before it moves to the City Council for review, according to the city’s charter.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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