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Northampton city council fails to pass budget, leaving earlier mayoral proposal in place

Teachers union members and residents gathered outside of Northampton City Hall on Thursday, June 20, ahead of a city council meeting to decide on the FY2025 budget activists say could eliminate as many as 20 positions in Northampton Public Schools.
WAMC
/
James Paleologopoulos
Teachers union members and residents gathered outside of Northampton City Hall on Thursday, June 20, ahead of a city council meeting to decide on the FY2025 budget activists say could eliminate as many as 20 positions in Northampton Public Schools.

Months of budget talks in Northampton, Massachusetts came to a head at the latest city council meeting, only for councilors to come up short of passing a final spending plan. An earlier plan proposed by the mayor will likely take effect in the meantime — with both versions of the budget considered insufficient by a local teachers’ union. 

The nearly $137 million budget for fiscal year 2025 was proposed by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra back in mid-May and is on track to go into effect July 1 – after the council came one vote short of passing a final, amended plan Thursday.

Per state law, the budget will go in effect at the start of the new fiscal year after the council voted 5-3 on an amended plan that had been discussed in the weeks leading up to Thursday. Six “yes” votes were needed for it to pass.

Council President Alex Jarrett, who indicated he would vote to pass the budget if he was able, abstained. He did so after citing a conflict of interest - a group he works with, the Pedal People Cooperative, has a contract with the city that had been in place before he was elected.

Both budget versions featured spending increases for the Northampton Public School district, but not at levels that would prevent a number of jobs from being eliminated, according to the Northampton Association of School Employees.

The NASE, as well as other members of other local unions and residents, were in front of city hall ahead of Thursday’s meeting, protesting the proposed budget.

NASE officials estimate around 20 positions would be eliminated in the FY25 budget, in addition to other staff being moved around the district. The potential cuts were cited when the union previously voted “no confidence” in NPS Superintendent Dr. Portia Bonner amid the budget debate.

Thursday’s demonstration also featured a member of the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation detailing why the union was rescinding its 2021 endorsement of Sciarra over the eliminations.

Jeff Jones, president of the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation and a Northampton resident, spoke during Thursday's standout, detailing how the WMALF held an almost unanimous vote to rescind its 2021 endorsement of Sciarra during the mayoral race.
James Paleologopoulos
/
WAMC
Jeff Jones, president of the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation and a Northampton resident, spoke during Thursday's standout, detailing how the WMALF held an almost unanimous vote to rescind its 2021 endorsement of Sciarra during the mayoral race.

While the budget voted on Thursday featured an 8 percent increase in school spending compared to the current year, it would end up calling for jobs cuts to help fill a $4.77 million deficit NPS had been facing. 

The upcoming end of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief or ESSER funds, increased staffing, and other factors contributed to the deficit, according to Sciarra’s budget. 

Similar cuts have been felt throughout the region as districts prepare for ESSER funds to cease in September. 

Following amendments from the mayor, the budget that failed Thursday featured around $40.7 million for the school district, up from $39.6 million in the original May proposal.

The amended budget was also $2 million dollars less than the “level service” budget passed by the school committee in April – which advocates say would prevent drastic cuts. 

A proponent of level-funding, Ward 4 City Councilor Jeremy Dubs was among the three councilors to reject the mayor’s amended budget. 

“The proposed budget would eliminate teachers, specialists who work with children with disabilities, and support staff,” Dubs said during the council meeting. “It will cut essential services to our most vulnerable and marginalized students. The proposed budget is, in my opinion, not reflective of our values and priorities.”

Also voting “no” was Ward 3 Councilor Quaverly Rothenberg and Council Vice President Rachel Maiore.

Speaking before Dubs, Sciarra described the budget at-hand as the result of numerous hard decisions.

Many votes involve compromises and imperfections and difficult choices, and we've had to make many difficult choices in crafting this budget,” the mayor said. “And I know that you all have difficult choices before you tonight, but that is the task before us - to do the best with what we have and - we have added as much as we possibly can responsibly to this budget, without needing a larger override or creating a larger deficit by using one-time funds that are not recurring.”

Sciarra was responding to a question posed by Jarrett as to whether she planned to add anything more to the budget.

In a statement to WAMC after the budget failed to pass Thursday, Sciarra says she anticipates the council will approve prior amendments for additional school funding during a special meeting in July.

While the budget itself did not pass, the council did approve putting a $3 million operating override on this year’s state election ballot in November.

The override’s purpose: “funding the operating budgets of the City and Public Schools for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2025.”

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