Northampton school superintendent: Union’s no-confidence vote shows ‘lack of courtesy’

PORTIA BONNER

PORTIA BONNER

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 06-16-2024 10:01 AM

Modified: 06-16-2024 12:31 PM


NORTHAMPTON — Northampton Public Schools Superintendent Portia Bonner expressed “deep disappointment” in the school union’s recent vote of no confidence in her, saying that it showed a “lack of courtesy.” She also pushed back against the notion that she is not doing enough to advocate for the schools.

“It seems that if I am not demanding the budget package sought by the union, then I have not met their standard of advocacy,” said Bonner, who is completing her first year in the position. “I also met with Sen. Comerford to discuss Chapter 70 funding and state support to increase funding for Northampton. Is that not advocating?”

The Northampton Association of School Employees (NASE) union announced the no-confidence vote last Wednesday amid an ongoing fight over the school’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. As things currently stand, the $40 million budget would see a reduction of 20 full-time equivalent positions in the district, including several teachers. NASE is pushing for a “level-services” budget that will avoid any job cuts, which would raise the budget by roughly twice what is currently proposed.

The union cited several things they didn’t like about Bonner’s performance, including “top-down initiatives planned for next year, lack of presence in our schools, and her disdain for students and the disparaging remarks she has made to them when they were voicing their support for school funding.”

In a statement released Friday, Bonner addressed the accusation of top-down initiatives, saying several school initiatives, such as the implementation of the Restorative Practices program, along with new math and English curricula, had already been part of the district’s plan prior to her becoming superintendent. She also offered to share her log of school visits to show her presence in the schools.

Bonner also responded to the accusation that she has disdain for students, which refers to an April School Committee meeting at which the superintendent sought to correct the record following comments about budget cuts made by an NHS student. During that meeting, the student left upset and when she returned, Bonner apologized to her.

“I am so sorry that the character value of forgiveness has not been infused in some people, and that some do not seem to be able or want to differentiate different perspectives without demonizing others,” Bonner said in the statement regarding the incident.

School Committee mum

At Thursday’s School Committee meeting, with Bonner present, union president Andrea Egitto laid out the reasons behind the no-confidence vote, surrounded by fellow NASE members as she did so.

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“NASE does not take delivering this news lightly,” Egitto said. “We are fully aware of the gravity of this situation, but educators can no longer stand by and watch unnecessary and deep cuts to services, staff and programs that students need and deserve for a rich, fulfilling education.”

Though committee members did not respond to the no-confidence vote throughout the six-hour meeting, Ward 4 committee member Michael Stein noted near the end of the meeting that the committee should eventually address the issue at a later public meeting.

“We should do it sooner than later, and I don’t think we should fold it into the evaluation process,” said Stein, who has previously voiced support for the level-services budget. “We really need to have a conversation about it. I don’t think it would be good for the community if we don’t.”

School Committee Vice Chair Gwen Agna said the committee would not comment on the no-confidence vote at this time, but plans to get together and release a statement in the near future.

Also speaking at the committee meeting was Liz Falco, an English teacher at Northampton High School who said her position would be eliminated under the current budget plan. Falco said she had a 6-year-old son and spent most of the spring worried about whether she would have a job come next year.

“I am hopeful that there’s still time to do right by our students, our educators and our community,” Falco said. “Regardless of what happens with the budget, teachers and staff on the front lines will have to absorb the city’s failure to fund schools adequately. We have to serve the students in front of us, even if it’s physically, psychologically and emotionally costly for us and for them.”

The City Council will take up the budget for a final vote on Thursday during its regularly scheduled meeting. Prior to that, a special council meeting will be held on Monday at 7:45 p.m. where supporters of the level-services budget, including Ward 4 councilor Quaverly Rothenberg, will present an outline for how the city could afford such a budget. Though the meeting is listed as virtual, Rothenberg said she plans to host a public event for people to attend for the meeting.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.