Superintendent Portia Bonner
Reminder Publishing photo by Ryan Feyre

NORTHAMPTON — The School Committee unanimously approved a statement in support of Superintendent Portia Bonner exactly two weeks after the Northampton Association of School Employees submitted a vote of no confidence in the superintendent amidst a contentious budget season.

During its meeting on June 26, the committee entered executive session for two hours to discuss information about NASE’s no confidence vote with NASE representatives and to devise a School Committee statement in response to the no confidence vote.

Executive session discussions are closed to the public. No public comment was allowed during this meeting.
When the committee returned, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra read a prepared statement from the committee in support of Bonner’s leadership.

“We have heard the concerns of NASE and are responding to affirm our commitment to support Dr. Bonner and to work with our larger school community to chart a path forward for our district,” the statement said. “Dr. Bonner was hired with high hopes and community support during a turbulent time in Northampton Public Schools … we remain committed to Dr. Bonner’s success.”

The statement also acknowledged that there has been a “fracture of trust” within the community, and reestablishing this trust will “require work from both the superintendent and the School Committee.”

“As a School Committee, we are committed to centering the wellbeing of our city’s children and the stability of our schools,” the statement said. “Our community deserves the very best from all of us and we look forward to working with all stakeholders in our community to move forward together.”

The committee stated that they plan to discuss their “annual evaluation” of Bonner’s performance as superintendent at one of its next public School Committee meetings.

No confidence vote and superintendent response

In a statement provided to the School Committee during its June 13 regular meeting, the union — which makes up teachers, paraeducators, clerical and custodial units — said that 96%, or 348 out of 364 members who cast a ballot, believe that Bonner no longer has the ability to lead the Northampton Public Schools district.

Andrea Egitto, the NASE president, said that 90% of NASE membership participated in the vote and the total results represented an “overwhelming majority.”

“We stand unified in delivering these results,” Egitto said during the meeting. “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.”

NASE cited several reasons for its no confidence in Bonner. They claimed that her budget presentation this year was “confusing and inaccurate,” and they also said they lost confidence in Bonner’s specific conduct and leadership abilities.

Bonner responded with her own statement, saying that the no confidence vote demonstrated a “lack of courtesy “ since the union did not communicate with her about the vote prior to the vote being taken.

Bonner also disagreed with many of NASE’s sentiments, including the union’s argument that Bonner did not advocate enough for the budget. Bonner said that she spoke at the Ways and Means hearing for Northampton this past winter. She said she also met with state Sen. Jo Comerford (D-Northampton) to discuss Chapter 70 funding and state support to increase funding for Northampton.

“However, it seems that if I am not demanding the budget package sought by the union, then I have not met their standard of advocacy,” Bonner said.

Readers can learn more about NASE’s concerns and Bonner’s response in prior coverage at thereminder.com/local-news/nase-votes-no-confidence-in-northampton-superintendent/.

Budget vote

The School Committee also voted 5-3 in favor of the specific cost allocations to the fiscal year 2025 school budget of $40.8 million, with the condition that amendments are approved by the City Council to get to that figure.

The council scheduled a special meeting on July 2, after Reminder Publishing’s press time, to vote for or against the amendments presented by Sciarra. An update will be provided in a future issue of The Reminder.

Ward 7 member Kerry LaBounty, Ward 5 member Ann Hennessey, Ward 2 member Karen Foster Cannon and at-large members Gwen Agna and Aline Davis were the five members to vote for the cost allocations, which basically solidify what is specifically being maintained and what is being reduced in the school budget.

According to Bonner, certain allocations can change throughout the fiscal year, but if that happens, she said she would come back to the School Committee to describe her rationale for a change with hopes that the committee would agree.

“I just feel, as a School Committee, we owe it to the district to let this work move forward,” said Foster-Cannon, before the vote. “And yes, it’s saying, ‘OK, we’re agreeing that this is the best use of the resources with the information we have at this time and as information changes, those changes can come back to us.’”

Although the vote passed, some members expressed concerns about where money was being allocated and where reductions are occurring.

Ward 4 member Michael Stein and Ward 3 member Emily Serafy-Cox, who both voted no on the allocations, expressed some of those concerns.

“I’ll just say that I’m really concerned looking at some of these reductions about the impact on our kids and on our staff,” Stein said.

More specifically, Stein said he was worried about the reduction of interventionists at Bridge Street Elementary School, math interventionist reductions at Leeds Elementary School, an English teacher reduction at the high school and the reduction of an adjustment counselor at the high school.

Agna also expressed concern about the reduction of an adjustment counselor and English teacher position.
“I’m still concerned about that,” Agna said.

Around 20 full-time positions would be cut with the $40.8 million budget, which would be an 8% increase from the current fiscal year.

Serafy-Cox expressed a desire to not vote on the cost allocations yet because she said she had a list of around $400,000 worth of positions that caregivers, students and teachers have told the committee are necessary to maintain.

“I don’t want to make a decision that would hurt someone’s retirement,” Serafy-Cox said. “However, we are also talking about thousands of kids in our district … for me, there’s a lot of questions around what we can move around in order to potentially restore some of the positions.”

Bonner expressed a desire for the committee to vote on the line items so she knows specifically which employees will stay and which will go.

“I don’t want to go back and forth,” Bonner said. “We’ve already caused enough angst to our staff members, and so right now we are in a folding pattern. We know who we want to call back.

We probably will have those letters ready to go hopefully after July 2.”

Sciarra also voted no on the allocations, but that was only because she disagreed with an amendment that was made to revisit these cost centers in August to make adjustments if necessary.

“I don’t think we should continue this in August,” Sciarra said. “I think this needs to be done sooner.”