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NASE President Andrea Egitto was one of many speakers at a community forum on May 8, where activists demanded that the city fully fund the school district.
Reminder Publishing photo by Ryan Feyre

NORTHAMPTON — With the mayor presenting her proposed full fiscal year 2025 budget during the City Council’s May 16 meeting, the fight for fully funded schools continues amongst community activists.

Parents, students, teachers and unions gathered for a community forum at JFK Middle School on May 8 to demand that the City Council and Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra adopt the $42.8 million budget, or a 14% increase from the current FY24 budget, that the School Committee voted for on April 11.

If the Northampton City Council passes a city budget with this increase to the schools, then no cuts to positions in the school district will be necessary.

However, if the mayor comes to the May 16 City Council meeting with her recommended school budget of a little over $38 million, or a 4% increase — and the council passes that budget later this spring — then the school district would most likely face 30 position cuts and a salary freeze for all staff amounting to $1.9 million.

“We’re here tonight so that we can work together as parents, as students, as community members, as union members, to stand with our educators and paraprofessionals and every Northampton public school staff to say that education is a priority and our students deserve better,” Nykole Roche, a parent of three Northampton Public School children and a researcher with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said during the May 8 forum.

The gathering — which was coordinated by the Northampton Association of School Employees, the Western Mass. Area Labor Federation, as well as parents and students-occurred seven days after 20 layoffs and 20 involuntary transfers were doled out across the district by the superintendent’s office in anticipation of the upcoming budget vote.

“There are roughly 40 staff positions that are being impacted,” said Kate Fontaine, the coordinator for license educators with the Northampton Association of School Employees. “What that means for our schools is that we’re losing a lot of really important positions, and by extension, we’re losing really important people.”

Fontaine said that the loss of key roles, like interventionists and peer support people, will impact the neediest students and the involuntary transfers would place people in roles that fail to accommodate their best skills.
“We’re moving people without necessarily training them from an area that is potentially the best use of their skills,” Fontaine said. “And because we are in a budget crunch, we’re really worried about what professional development is going to look like for people that are going into new roles.”

The gathering at JFK Middle School follows months of contentious debate between city officials and community activists that started back in December when Superintendent Portia Bonner presented a first look budget with an 8% increase and recommendations to cut 20 full-time positions to help close a $2.7 million deficit.

Sciarra, however, argued in January that a school budget increase of 8% would create a budget deficit of $3.5 million in FY25 and would require a $5 million Proposition 2½ override in FY26 and another $5 million override in FY29.

Instead, based on anticipated revenues and expenditures, Sciarra recommended that the School Committee approve a 4% increase from their current budget.

“I very strongly recommend that the School Committee look to support the administration in bringing the budget back in line with the fiscal stability plan,” Sciarra said at the time.

The recommended 4% increase from the mayor has drawn ire from students, staff and members of the Northampton Association of School Employees; all of whom argue that the schools could not survive a budget with that many cuts.

“Every person in our district is essential,” said NASE President Andrea Egitto, who argued during the May 8 forum that the city has the extra money to properly fund the schools. “The superintendent brought a lot of cuts that we didn’t agree with. We shouldn’t be cutting in a time of teacher shortages.”

Other NASE members, as well as students, teachers, community members and representatives from multiple unions spoke in favor of fully funding schools during the May 8 forum.

“We have the effect here of these union members coming forward and making sure that your kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews and the future people are going to be running this city and running our communities have the education that they need,” said Suzanne Love, a registered nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center and chair of the registered nurse union there.

Lucy Braudis, the president of the senior class at NHS, said that the fight for Northampton Public Schools will continue, even with graduation on the horizon.

“We’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to keep asking them to listen to us because we’re the ones in the schools and we’re the ones who are going to lose our teachers,” said Braudis, who organized a sit-in at the mayor’s office prior to the School Committee vote to demand fully funded schools. “We are the ones who are going to not have clubs, not have extracurriculars, not have teachers, but they don’t want to listen to us.”

Although the School Committee voted for the 14% increase, advocates note that there is still work to be done to convince the council and the mayor to adopt the School Committee’s proposal.

According to Egitto, the City Council as of right now cannot raise a line item in the mayor’s proposed budget, which means whatever proposal Sciarra comes with on May 16 can only be maintained or reduced.

There is, however, one exception. If the council opts into a Massachusetts General Law known as “the Acts of 1987,” which basically allows more local control over the school budget, then the council, by a two-thirds vote, can raise the mayor’s proposed school budget if the School Committee’s recommended budget is higher.
The council and mayor must both agree to opt into the special act in order for it to take into effect.

Recommended by Ward 3 City Councilor Quaverly Rothenberg and Ward 4 City Councilor Jeremy Dubs, the special act was discussed on May 13 during a joint meeting of the City Council’s finance committee and legislative matters.

The expectation is a vote on whether the city will opt-in to the act will occur during the May 16 council meeting.
Activists from the school community are planning to rally for fully funded schools on the City Hall steps at 5:30 p.m. one hour prior to the City Council meeting.

The City Council has until June 30, one day before FY25 begins, to vote on the full budget.

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