Video: School Committee Meeting of February 12; Presentation of Strategic Plan

Here is a complete Vimeo video of the School Committee meeting of February 12. The video is 2 hours and 46 minutes long and was recorded by Lachlan Ziegler.

The Northampton Public Schools Strategic Plan (PDF, 192 KB) is presented and discussed during 0:32:40-1:37:37. Below are selections that relate to the possible closing of an elementary school such as Bridge Street School. The Strategic Planning Committee was unable to make a recommendation on this issue. It is still an open question.

The committee estimates operational cost savings of $200,000 to $400,000 from closing an elementary school and lists some downsides. The following issues may merit deeper consideration, however:

The net savings from closing a school may be open to question. In “Dollars & Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools”, the authors write:

Adding up the costs and weighing them
against the benefits shows that small schools not only are
better places in which to educate children, but that large
schools themselves actually create significant diseconomies…

[Funk & Bailey, 1999 research report:]
By two important measures of student outcome, smaller
schools in Nebraska generally perform better than larger
ones. The additional input cost of supporting students in
smaller schools needs to be weighed against their more
positive educational outcomes. The so-called inefficiencies
of small schools are greatly reduced when calculated
on the basis of cost per graduate, and virtually disappear
when the substantial social costs of non-graduates and
the societal impact of college-educated citizens are considered
(p. 3).

Both the Nebraska study and its counterpart
in New York show that, measuring by the cost of
a graduate, small schools are good financial and educational

While it may be true that in small schools some costs
increase because they are spread out over fewer students,
research suggests that large schools require added tiers of
administration, more security people, and additional
maintenance and operations personnel. The reason for
this may be that in large schools more students feel alienated
from the life of the school and some vent their anger
in inappropriate or violent behavior. Therefore, it takes
more paid professionals per student to deal with the negative
effects of alienation in a large school than in a small
one, where people know each other better…

Here are selected excerpts from the Strategic Plan that relate to closing a school:

Northampton Public Schools Strategic Plan

Page 5:

The focus groups and interviews revealed the core values of the community as they relate to the school system:

  • A commitment to equity and meeting the needs of a diverse student body;
  • A commitment to providing a strong educational program;
  • A commitment to focusing on the whole child (academics, social, emotional, fine arts and physical);
  • A commitment to small, community schools; and,
  • A commitment to maintaining small class size(s).

The core values served to guide the Strategic Planning Committee as they conducted their review and developed their recommendations.

Page 8:

There were two areas in which savings could be realized that were not endorsed by the Strategic Planning Committee. The two areas are closing one elementary school and limiting school bus transportation to that which is required by law. (See Appendix G-School Closing – School Bus Transportation.)

The options were thoroughly reviewed. However, the SPC cannot recommend either of them to the School Committee because each is in conflict with the core values the community has for the school system. The Strategic Planning Committee recognizes that it is the responsibility of the school committee to review and consider both of these options as they look to the future of the school system.

Page 14:

While there is a general agreement that the issue of funding the schools must be faced and resolved, some disagreement was expressed in the area of demographic trends. Some of those participating in the last focus group (10/01/08) expressed the view that the number of students enrolling in the school system is not in decline and that their review of data indicates that enrollment will remain steady or increase somewhat.

The information provided to us by the school system indicates a declining trend in school enrollment. Some of this decline has been offset by admitting students from other communities under the provisions of the school choice program.

The city’s Director of Planning and Development said during an interview that the city’s overall population growth is flat. He does not believe the student enrollment will increase. He pointed out that the “Hospital Hill” development is the biggest source of a potential population bubble, but considering a number of factors he believes the number of children likely to reside in these homes will not cause an increase to the school population.

Page 19:

District Enrollment K-12

1989    3,084         Male      1,408
2004    2,923         Female  1,385
2008    2,793         Total      2,793

Student enrollment appears to be declining. The Strategic Planning Committee believes the matter of future enrollment is uncertain. However, the City’s Director of Planning and Development believes the city’s school age population will continue to decline over the next twenty (20) years. (See Northampton Schools Strategic Planning: Demographic Background and Sustainable Northampton [PDF, 803KB])

Page 23:

There has been a decline in student population and a growing reliance upon incoming school choice students to maintain enrollment numbers. It appears that there is some local conflict over the validity of enrollment trends. According to the local planners office Northampton is flat in terms of population growth and this somewhat bucks the downward trend seen in other cities. The city is benefiting from a perception that it is a good place in which to retire and live, which helps with overall population, but does not bring increasing numbers of children into the school system. The trend then is an increase in empty nesters, and a decline in school age children, along with a decrease in 18 to 22 year olds who are electing to leave the city—the so called missing cohort.

Page 24:

The possibility of school closing and redistricting is a question that remains to be answered and more information will be provided after further interviews with the School, Planning and Central Services Departments.

Page 48:

The Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) explored two (2) areas as possible sources of savings, closing an elementary school and reducing school bus transportation to the state required level. The SPC feels very strongly in both instances that although choosing to recommend either or both of these strategies would result in savings, both strategies are in conflict with core values that the community holds for the school system. Specifically, a consideration of the values of a commitment to small, community elementary schools, small class size and a commitment to equity and meeting the needs of a diverse student body.

The SPC believes that the Northampton School Committee should consider the pros and cons associated with implementing either or both of the two strategies within the context of the core values. The implementation of either strategy represents significant policy shifts which only the school committee can make.

School Closing:

Closing one of the elementary schools would reduce the number of elementary schools in the district from four to three. The three remaining schools would be redistricted to contain between four hundred twenty to four hundred forty students each which would be accomplished by relocating over two hundred fifty students. The value conflict in this instance is with the community’s commitment to small, community elementary schools.

The pros associated with this action are:

  • Operational cost savings of $200,000 to $400,000
  • Class size could be maintained at current levels

The cons associated with this action are:

  • Classroom space will be committed to regular and special education which could limit the availability of classrooms for art, music and computer labs.
  • Additional school choice slots would be limited, resulting in reduced revenue
  • Increase in basic transportation costs

Other considerations are:

  • Community programs may be displaced
  • Accommodating existing programs
  • Families deciding to send their children to school elsewhere
  • Current school choice enrollees may leave Northampton

See also:

Northampton Education Action Team: School Closure Analysis
The statement that enrollment is declining enough to justify a school consolidation at this time is not supported by the data. A more accurate conclusion is: “The steepest decline in Northampton’s public school enrollment occurred before 2001. After that, the trend leveled off, with minor increases and decreases, hovering just above and below the 1300 mark.”

Northampton FY2010 Budget
A presentation and video on this will be available here by February 27.

Village Hill Demographic Projections (PDF)

the projections below, note how “New Suburban Neighborhoods” have a
relatively high percentage of school-age children. If Village Hill
follows more closely to that pattern as opposed to the Planning
Department’s assumptions, this would boost the number of school-age
children in the development. The Planning Board discussed this
possibility and its implications at its November 13 meeting.]