John Frey: School Committee must practice prudent fiscal management



Published: 05-09-2024 5:26 PM

I am a Northampton public school parent who wants our schools to be funded as robustly as possible. But the arguments made by Northampton Ward 4 School Committee member Michael Stein (“Serving educational needs shouldn’t be ‘aspirational’,” Gazette, May 6) in defense of the School Committee’s unbalanced budget struck me as contradictory. Stein claims to be “very much in favor of prudent fiscal management” but then knocked the city government’s “stockpiling millions in reserves for the greatest bond rating.” But Northampton’s AAA bond rating from S&P Global Ratings, which is the best possible, is the most objective measure of prudent fiscal management. Moreover, the rating saves the city money with lower interest rates that more cheaply fund capital projects. He criticizes “the millions of city dollars that will go to Picture Main Street,” then declares, “in municipal governance, some things are far less novel and viewed as essential [such as] roads [and] sidewalks.” But Picture Main Street is literally about improving our downtown roads and sidewalks (with $19 million in state and federal transportation grants that cannot be repurposed to fund schools).

What I did not find from Stein’s column was any proposal to resolve the $4.8 million deficit left in the School Committee’s budget involving recurring revenues that will cover the presently unfunded increases in staff positions and compensation. He alludes to Picture Main Street, the Resilience Hub, and “the new divisions and departments the city has recently created” (which were not specified but are the Department of Community Care and the Climate Action & Project Administration office). But nearly all of that isn’t funded with recurring revenues, but with grants and other one-time funds. Overly relying on one-time funds is why we have a $4.8 million school budget deficit. Being a supporter of schools is great, but when School Committee members don’t practice prudent fiscal management, our schools are not well supported.

John Frey, Northampton inspector and sealer of weights and measures


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