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Western Mass. school budget cuts could lead to reduced student support staff

The school committee in Northampton, Massachusetts, meets in March 2023.
City of Northampton
The school committee in Northampton, Massachusetts, meets in March 2023.

School districts across western Massachusetts are finalizing their budgets for the 2025 fiscal year, with many including cuts in teaching and student facing positions.

Northampton’s public schools risk losing 15-30 positions, depending on the budgeting decisions made by the school committee on Thursday.

Amherst is faced with potentially losing 20 positions, and Pittsfield is facing a potential loss of over 100, according to The Berkshire Eagle. Community members from Amherst are asking the Town Council to consider approving a budget that would allow the district to maintain all current positions.

The Northampton School Committee was given different budget options. The primary one from the superintendent’s office which would represent a 7.97% increase from the previous year, and one from the city which would be a 4% increase, according to Gwen Agna, a school committee member at-large.

School committee member Michael Stein said that under either of the proposed budgets, the schools would struggle to fulfill their legal responsibilities. Schools are required to dedicate a certain number of hours to students with accommodations and with less staff that becomes increasingly difficult.

“The budget that we have … will just allow us, if everything goes perfectly, to deliver on those service grids,” Stein said. “But there were a number of areas of caution, that we were warned about by the director of student services that could come up, that would make that impossible.”

Stein is hoping that the board will vote for a level operations budget - which wouldn’t require any cuts - but would be around a 14% percent increase from the previous year. Over triple what the mayor's office is asking for.

“If we have larger class sizes and we have fewer people supporting students - it will be significant,” said Agna, emphasizing that the cuts to positions will affect students' accessibility to necessary academic support and guidance.

Stein said that teachers aren’t the only roles potentially on the chopping block. Crossing guards, guidance counselors, and clerical staff are all seen as potential contenders for cuts.

One major factor contributing to the lack of funds across cities is the discontinuation of Covid-19 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), which Northampton and other cities have relied on to make up for other deficits.

Other contributing factors include the increased use of school choice funds within the city, and an increase in teachers wages in compliance with the teachers union contract.

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