Sustainable Northampton Public Schools Petitions City to Defer Decision on Bridge Street School for One Year

A new organization, Sustainable Northampton Public Schools, has launched to protect the quality of the city’s public schools during the current fiscal hard times. They are circulating the following petition:

Dear Elected Officials of Northampton,

There’s no question the budget climate is brutal, and that as much as we are all heartsick about it, very painful cuts will have to occur. One possible cut is the closing of an elementary school – a move would be felt far beyond just the children themselves. This decision would affect the entire city.

Therefore, we strongly urge you to do the following:

Defer the decision on closing a school for one year.

And during that year, conduct a due diligence study on the full impact (educational and economic) of closing a school, including everything from city property values and the quality of learning to traffic flow and gymnasium crowding.

Show us that every scenario has been considered, and involve the community in the process. This will give us a chance to see – and ideally be part of – the thoughtful and painstaking planning that a permanent step like this deserves. It is in keeping with the city’s pledge of transparency and long-term sustainability. It will ensure that as a community we make the best decision possible.

For this year, make cuts that COULD be reversed if the financial situation changes. Buses can be re-deployed, supplies can be bought, technology can be upgraded, aides can be rehired.

If, after a year, we’ve exhausted all possible cutbacks and new revenue sources and are still facing a massive deficit, then we can revisit the option of closing a school. By then the entire community, including planners and educators, will have had the opportunity to weigh in on exactly HOW to do it in the least devastating way.

You have the pledge of parents as well as community members to spend the next year working with you on ways to ease this burden and maintain our wonderful school system. The good will, commitment, and energy of the people of Northampton are among the best things about living in this town. Please don’t squander them.


To add your name to the growing list of signatures, send an email to:

The SNPS website provides more details here:

Caution Urged Over Possible School Closing

A combination of rising costs, falling student enrollment and diminishing state aid are making it difficult for school committees across Massachusetts to balance budgets without introducing severe cuts. In Northampton, for Fiscal Year 2009, a budget gap of $800,000 must be closed by June 30. Initial estimates from the budget and planning sub-committee state that closing a school would save approximately $400,000.

Community Concerns:
Many segments of the Northampton community, including business owners, residents with school-age children and residents without, have made the following observations:

   1. A primary measure of any community is the quality and integrity of its public school system. Closing a school has short and long-term implications for the city as a whole.

   2. A detailed study of all consequences, positive and the negative, should be conducted before any action is taken. This is standard practice for any significant city decision, such as whether to expand or close the landfill.

   3. Due diligence studies for closing a school as a way to partially address a budget gap have not been done.

   4. Red-flag areas include:

          * General Financial issues:
            It has not yet been proved that a savings of $400,000 will in fact be realized if a school were closed this year. Three of the four proposals made by the Superintendent call for closing Bridge Street School. The fourth calls for closing Ryan Road School. What will happen to the closed building? Will it be shuttered, rented out, or used for other offices. If the building is kept open for school purposes, there is no savings because it still must be maintained; in that case moving established students hardly seems worth it. If the building is rented out, how much revenue can be expected? Does that amount justify the burden placed on the other schools to absorb new students, the transportation costs and all the other losses? A study of up-to-date demographics and enrollment trends need to be done for the entire district.

          * Transportation issues:
            Bridge Street School has a high percentage of walkers. Of the 271 students enrolled this year, only 126 take the bus. Does it make sense put all of these walkers on buses, and send those buses across town? Does it make sense financially when gas prices are certain to increase? Do the numbers show that there is a net savings even after figuring in more buses, drivers, fuel prices? How does this square with traffic flows in the city when either school is closed? How does this square with a city known for a commitment to environmental responsibility?

          * Sustainable Northampton issues:
            Northampton’s Sustainability Plan subscribes to smart growth and the in-fill of existing dense areas, so that outlying areas can be preserved. How do the different scenarios square with the Northampton Sustainability Plan? For example, why close a school in the already high-density, walker-friendly, bike path accessible Ward 3 area if one goal of the Sustainability Plan is to encourage walking and biking?

          * Neighborhood Impact Issues:
            What’s the collateral damage to the neighborhood that loses its school?

                o Bridge Street School’s Ward 3, one of the last affordable neighborhoods, has experienced a rejuvenation over the past several years, as more owner-occupied and families with children have moved in, in large part because of the presence and quality of Bridge Street School. As the Northampton Sustainability Plan says, “A high quality of life is attracting new residents.” And “People are moving to Northampton from larger communities. . . .to raise children.” What will be the effect on downtown businesses if there is no longer a hub of activity near the downtown area. What is the effect to those businesses if the gateway to downtown declines? What happens to property values if Ward 3 reverts to less owner-occupied households and more high-turnover rental housing?

                o What’s the collateral damage to the Ryan Road area if that school closed? Will there be a decline in property values? Will there be less new home construction if students need to be bussed out of the area? What if the areas of greatest “new family” growth are in fact in both the Ryan Road School area and the Bridge Street School area?

                o What’s the collateral damage to Leeds and Jackson Street? Even though they are not targeted to be closed, they will have to absorb more students? The best way to effect the consolidation will take time to work out. A value must be placed on these various “unquantifiables” so they can be included in the overall calculation.

          * Facilities Management Issues:
            Even if appropriate class size can be maintained, what are the other facilities management issues? For example, how can enough P.E. classes be offered, when more students are added to a school but there is still only one gymnasium? Does it make sense to move the Jackson street pre-school somewhere else, if it serves families whose older children attend that school? Would this cause more traffic through town?

          * Educational Issues:
            What educational price is paid when effective teacher-administrative teams are either dispersed amongst the remaining schools or tasked with suddenly absorbing more students? What happens to those students for whom transition to a new environment causes anxiety? Ryan Road and Bridge Street are excellent schools working with limited resources as it is. There have been no cuts to the high school budget for ten years. Is it wise to continue to sacrifice the educational experience of elementary-age children to solve the budget concerns?

          * Long-Term Financial Stability Issues:
            Closing a school does not solve the longer-term problems facing the district. In fact, closing a school now could create more problems later. For example, if Hospital Hill becomes developed as planned, will the increase in children to the remaining three schools create overcrowding? What happens the next time there is a budget gap but the three remaining schools are at capacity? In this case the safety valve of school closure does not exist. Will that force an unpleasant tax override?

          * Lessons from the Past:
            When considering any major decision it is prudent to review previous experiences. What were the costs and gains of closing Florence Grammar School? How did that impact the Florence area in general? What has been gained by maintaining that building in order to earn revenue from low-paying non-profit tenants who come and go?  What lessons can be learned from the sale of the Old School Commons and the South Street School? How have other communities fared with schoo
l closures?

   5. There is not enough time to study the pros and cons of closing a school for FY09.

   6. Therefore, the school committee is urged to defer this decision for one year.

   7. During that year an impact study should be done, the goal of which should be to:

          * Determine whether closing an elementary school is a wise decision for the short and long term.

          * If so: decide which school to close, and how to best minimize the negative impact.

          * If not, develop a long term plan for dealing with continued financial difficulties

   8. The community should be invited to assist in this study, and the community should pledge to give that assistance.

   9. To close the budget gap for (FY09), cut those Fiscal Year 2009 line items that could be revived once a decision has been reached for FY10. No matter what, this school year will involve painful sacrifices. Let’s not to make a hasty decision that could worsen the situation for the long term.

See also:

Gazette: “Mayor to lead a series of city budget meetings” (3/25/08)
Mayor Clare Higgins is leading a series of meetings to explain to city residents the situation for the city’s Fiscal ’09 operating budget…

Tonight’s meeting is for Ward 4 residents, and is being held at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Puchalski Municipal Building.

The Ward 3 meeting was held Monday night at the Bridge Street School.

Other meeting dates are as follows: Tuesday, April 2, for Ward 7 at Leeds School cafeteria; Monday, April 7, for Ward 6 at the R.K. Finn Ryan Road School gymnasium; Tuesday, April 8 for Ward 1 at the Jackson Street School library; Wednesday, April 9, Ward 5 at Florence Civic Center; Wednesday, April 23, Ward 2, in the Little Theater at Northampton High School. All meetings are to run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the scheduled days.

Mayor Presents Latest Northampton City Budget, Proposed School Budget Reductions (3/24/08)
You may download the Mayor’s handouts as a PDF (6 pages, 199KB)…

Superintendent Rodriguez-Babcock said the school system aims to present
its recommendations to the Mayor by the end of April. It is possible
they will recommend the closure of Bridge Street School. Some members
in the audience felt that making such a major and hard-to-reverse
decision in such a short time was hasty.

recommendations are made, we hope the School Committee will consider if
they will increase costs elsewhere. Specifically, if Bridge Street
School is closed, it is probable that bus and car trips will surge as
neighborhood students need to be transported to schools farther away.
In effect, some of the city’s cost savings will result in higher costs
at the household level, along with increased pollution and time lost to

Closing Bridge Street School Contradicts Smart Growth Goals
Officials cite declining enrollment as a reason to consider closing the Bridge Street School (Gazette,
3/13/08). However, the Sustainable Northampton Plan envisions
accommodating “the vast majority of new smart growth residential
development” within Northampton’s Traditional Neighborhood and Receiving Zone, which precisely characterizes the Bridge Street neighborhood.

If Sustainable Northampton achieves its goals, it seems likely that Bridge Street School enrollments will rise…

Education World: “Are Smaller Schools Better Schools?” (7/20/00)
The researchers found that student achievement was greater in the small
schools than in the larger schools. Students, parents, teachers, and
community volunteers reported greater satisfaction because they felt
more connected to one another, Wasley told Education World…