- Could we move 6th grades back to the elementary schools, move 7 & 8 to the high school and rent out JFK Middle School?
- Could we lay off teacher's aides instead of teachers and use volunteers in the classrooms to do some of the jobs the aides were doing?
- Increase revenue by enforcing ordinances - send inspectors to find problems instead of waiting for neighbors to call problems in.
- Sell more street vendor licenses - enliven downtown with more food/merchandise vendors and sponsor more street/craft fairs.
- Stop excessive snow plowing!
- Turn off (or dim) the lights in city offices and on residential streets as much as possible.
- Encourage walking and biking by charging for parking in school lots, put more bike racks out and sell bike parking permits.
- Give preferences to city residents in hiring so people earning money here will spend it here and be invested in our community.
- Have we looked into developing a special education collaborative?
- If a Prop 2.5 override is considered as a last resort, I suggest the additional assessed tax be based on some measure of the property owner's ability to pay, to be equitable.
- What are the implications of Northampton parents sending their children to the Smith Campus School?
- Has a four day school week come up in the discussion?
- Why is there a 12% cut being asked of all departments? Is this most equitable?
- Are all departments as people heavy as the schools?
- If the NPS teachers are some of the lowest paid, why are we facing a bigger gap than surrounding communities?
Could we move 6th grades back to the elementary schools, move 7 & 8 to the high school and rent out JFK Middle School?
The short answer is no, because we still owe 20 years on a school construction bond for the JFK Middle School which means we must use the building as an educational facility for the next 20 years (or until the bond is paid off). The longer answer is that such a major shift in the delivery of education would need to be fully explored in light of current research and best practices and would require a great deal of public discussion. It's not a decision we should make as a community simply in response to the current financial situation.
Could we lay off teacher's aides instead of teachers and use volunteers in the classrooms to do some of the jobs the aides were doing?
The Superintendent's current proposal for meeting the budget gap calls for the loss of 56 positions: 7 Aides, 1 Custodian, and 48 Teachers. There are more teachers working for the School Department than there are any other category of staff (Aides, Custodian, Administration), so it makes some sense that the bulk of the cuts would fall where the bulk of the staff are. (You can see more analysis of the proposed staff reductions here: http://www.nps.northampton.ma.us/2010%20Budget/reductions.pdf .) Also, to be fair and responsible employers, we cannot bring in volunteers to replace paid employees. Moreover, our Educational Support Professionals (Aides) receive in-service training and professional development according to their placement and are accountable to the students and school at a deeper level than volunteers. That said, we are also enormously fortunate in Northampton to have such a large, talented and committed cadre of volunteers who serve our students and schools every day.
Increase revenue by enforcing ordinances - send inspectors to find problems instead of waiting for neighbors to call problems in.
City Inspectors have regular annual inspections which they complete, and they respond to suspected infractions which are reported by people in the community, and they follow up on zoning and other code enforcement issues they find when in the process of those responsibilities. We really cannot remove the citizen referrals from the process and hope to catch everything. There are too few inspectors, covering thousands and thousands of residential and commercial buildings where issues might arise.
Sell more street vendor licenses - enliven downtown with more food/merchandise vendors and sponsor more street/craft fairs.
More community events such as craft fairs and block parties are wonderful ways to bring people together for inexpensive entertainment - a worthy goal especially when so many people are cutting back on entertainment budgets. July's Downtown Sidewalk Sales are a good example, as was Taste of Northampton. Unfortunately, the latter festival no longer takes place; it was an enormous volunteer effort, which became too much to sustain. As for more street vendor licenses, the Board of Public Works will consider applications for street artists, and in doing so they must balance the need to keep our sidewalks passable, particularly on busy weekend days, with enough space to allow wheelchairs and strollers comfortable access. It is also a very challenging economy to be setting up new businesses, and many established businesses are feeling the pinch of the recession as well.
Honestly, this is not a complaint we hear very much following winter storms! Usually we hear when a road has not been plowed enough. However, as mentioned on earlier pages, we can expect that the way our streets are plowed next winter will be different next year in order to hold down overtime costs to the extent possible while also maintaining safe passage for emergency vehicles on all city streets.
Certainly, if you ever come to visit the Mayor's Office in City Hall, you will notice that the lights are rarely on - the office is fortunate to have tall windows which let in enough sunlight on most days of the year that the overhead lights are rarely needed. However, not all offices in the city are as lucky. In general, people do turn off lights when they leave their office for a meeting or for lunch. We also ask all city employees to use the automatic sleep mode that lets their computer monitors 'go to sleep' if they are not used for several minutes. This saves a little bit of energy as well. As for streetlights, in an earlier cost cutting campaign, a number of city streetlights were, in fact, turned off. The Mayor has asked the Central Services Director to review the remaining streetlights and make appropriate recommendations for FY2010.
Encourage walking and biking by charging for parking in school lots, put more bike racks out and sell bike parking permits.
It is hard to imagine there would be much public support for charging for parking in school parking lots. It would also be contrary to making schools as accessible as possible for family members and community volunteers to come be a part of classrooms at different times during the day. In terms of bike racks, the city has put more bike racks out around town each year and we continue to be committed to expanding the regional bike path network. Selling bike parking permits would also carry the costs of administering the permits, enforcing bike parking violations and appeals and might also have the reverse effect of discouraging biking downtown. The Mayor is, however, interested in exploring a "bicycle library" kind of program, where members can pick up a bike in one part of the city and leave it on a rack in another part of the city. If the program can be designed at no cost to the city, through grant funding or somehow self-supported, the Mayor would like to ask the Transportation and Parking Commission for their recommendation in the coming months.
Give preferences to city residents in hiring so people earning money here will spend it here and be invested in our community.
We are not allowed to discriminate between job applicants based on where they live. The only residency requirement is for some public safety jobs where the individual may need to be called back for an emergency response at short notice.
We do have access to several collaboratives, including Hampshire Educational Collaborative here in Northampton and Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative in West Springfield. We use these collaboratives for SPED students. We also run several in-district specialized SPED programs that keep students local rather than sending them to out of district placements - such as the Autism Program, the Alternative Learning Program, Life Skills, and the Alternative High School at Florence Community Center (FLC).
If a Prop 2.5 override is considered as a last resort, I suggest the additional assessed tax be based on some measure of the property owner's ability to pay, to be equitable.
The Massachusetts General Laws do not allow us the option of providing any kind of means testing as part of a Prop 2 1/2 override question. Under the law, the only exemptions we can make are for Senior Citizens over age 70 who own and live in their own home and meet certain eligibility limits. What we can do, is increase the amount of exemption that is available and make the eligibility requirements more generous in order to include more of our community's senior citizens in the category of people who would be exempt. (While the State reimburses communities for the first $500 exemption, any additional exemption Northampton includes would have to be funded in our annual operating budget.) This is certainly something Mayor Higgins will be considering when and if a Proposition 2 1/2 Override question is crafted in Northampton.
With regard to the school choice and charter issues, when a Northampton resident chooses to attend another district through School Choice, the district loses about $5,000 per student in Chapter 70 aid (Education aid from the State). When a resident of another town chooses to come to Northampton as a school choice student we gain $5,000 per student and the town they are leaving loses that amount. This year 68 Northampton residents have left us through school choice taking with them $398,000 while on the flip side, 177 non-residents have chosen to attend Northampton Public Schools through school choice and we gain $1,030,000. Clearly, school choice is working to our advantage here.
With regard to Charter Schools, we lose 152 Northampton residents to three area Charter Schools to the tune of $1,489,000 in lost revenue to our schools. Hilltown Cooperative in Williamsburg takes 85 of our students at approximately $9,800 each, Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter in South Hadley takes 57 of our students at approximately $10,000 each and the new Chinese Immersion School in Hadley takes 10 of our students at $10,190 each. Clearly, the funding mechanism for charter schools is what really needs to be addressed at the state level. This, more than anything, financially hurts our district.
Students attending private and religious schools do not have any bearing on our Chapter 70 aid.
Yes it has. Because the schools must be in session for 180 days per year under Massachusetts law, it would not provide for any savings; it would make the school year longer, pushing more of those 180 days into the summer. While that might save a very small amount in heating costs in the winter months, it would put students in schools during very hot months, and our buildings do not have air conditioning. Some of those classrooms – especially 2nd and 3rd floor classes – in June and they are very uncomfortable on hot days. We would have to look at installing A/C in at least some of those spaces, which would wipe out any heating savings with cooling expenditures. Also, it would require a renegotiation of our contracts with school personnel, some of whom supplement their school year income with part time summer jobs or augment their education and professional development with summer courses, either of which would be more difficult to do if their summer months were constrained by extra weeks of school. An additional consideration would be the effect on families with parents who work outside the home having to find childcare for one day each week while they work and their children are not in school.
At the beginning of the budget preparation process, the Mayor did a preliminary analysis of what revenues the city may reasonably expect, the local aid proposed by the Governor, and the fixed costs we would likely faced and calculated how much would remain to fund the rest of the city’s budget. Based on that, she asked all Departments to cut 12% from their budget requests as a starting point, a target to try to get to the balanced budget. She also identified which cuts would be her priority to restore if the state aid picture improved, or if the health insurance renewal came in below her projection. In the end, not every department will receive the same exact percentage cut. As you suggest, it is more complicated than that. But each department will very likely fall within a similar range.
This web page: (http://www.northamptonma.gov/FY2010/Expenditures
%5FWhere%5Fthe%5FMoney%5FGoes/) shows a chart showing the allocation of General Fund dollars by category, and yes, it is true across all city and school departments that most of our budget goes to support personnel.
If the NPS teachers are some of the lowest paid, why are we facing a bigger gap than surrounding communities?
When looking at compensation for any set of employees and making comparisons across communities, it is important to consider not just the annual salary, but also the fringe benefits, how large a contribution the individual makes toward their own health insurance coverage and working conditions, such as average number of students in a classroom. That being said, the newspapers are full of stories of neighboring communities which are struggling with difficult choices just like Northampton. Perhaps the dollar figure seems excessive if we compare it to some of the smaller hill towns, but all across the Commonwealth, cities and towns are finding themselves with similar fiscal challenges. This website (http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=dorterminal&L=4&L0=
Data+Bank+Reports&sid=Ador&b=terminalcontent&f=dls_mdmstuf_prop2levy&csid=Ador) from the State has a spreadsheet you can look at called “Override Votes 1989 to the Present.” If you open it and look at the ’00 –’09 tab, you will see that in the current Fiscal Year (2009), there have been scores of override votes across the Commonwealth. (These are only the ones which have already been voted on, not ones that are scheduled or only proposed, like ours.) We are not alone.