Shelly Berkowitz: See the light on school budget before it’s too late

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Published: 06-12-2024 5:41 PM

Modified: 06-13-2024 11:17 AM

Many excellent letters and columns recently published in the Gazette “crunch the numbers” and show existing, plausible solutions to fully funding our Northampton public schools. What I feel compelled to add here are the human costs of not doing so.

I moved to Northampton 29 years ago, together with my husband and then two young children. The main reason I chose “progressive” Northampton over other neighboring towns was due the reputation of its excellent public schools. Public schools are one of the remaining, significant hopes to save society. By blending children from diverse economic, racial and social backgrounds with each other, we can prevent “othering,” racism and a culture of hate.

When parents lose confidence in the quality of education provided in our public schools due to inadequate funding, our city loses this wonderful opportunity, and our children and city will not be able to regain what is lost.

My own children are the product of Jackson Street School and Northampton High School. I would definitely not have bought a home and settled in Northampton if I had to make the decision today, given the small-mindedness of the currently planned school budget, which will include cutting staff and eliminating up to 20 positions, including teachers and many other essential “student-facing” positions in our schools.

Pink slips have already been given out, and out of necessity, some of these gifted, experienced educators have already made plans to move on to other districts and towns. The city would retain its huge endowment and wonderful bond rating at the price of Jackson Street School having close to 30 students per class.

If the current plan is not fixed, parents will withdraw their children to charter, private (those who can afford to) and home schooling, as well as to other districts, and we will also lose other children whose parents until now have chosen Northampton under the school choice program. Fewer enrolled students means less money for schools — a sad, self-fulfilling, downward spiral.

The means are there if the will is there. I hope the mayor, and the remaining members of our City Council who have not yet seen the light, can be convinced before it is too late.

Shelly Berkowitz