Northampton school union votes no confidence in superintendent

The Northampton Association of School Employees has voted no confidence in Superintendent Portia Bonner.

The Northampton Association of School Employees has voted no confidence in Superintendent Portia Bonner. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 06-12-2024 7:37 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Northampton Association of School Employees union took a vote of no confidence this week in Superintendent Portia Bonner, the latest development in an ongoing battle between the union and the city over the school budget for next fiscal year.

In a statement put out on Wednesday, NASE said that 96%, or 348 out of 364 ballots cast, indicated no confidence in Bonner to lead the public schools. The School Committee appointed Bonner to the position last summer.

Union leaders said that they intend to present the no-confidence resolution to the School Committee at its meeting Thursday night.

The union cited the dispute over budget cuts as a primary reason for the vote.

“During the current budget-setting process, Superintendent Bonner not only failed to advocate for our public schools but also positioned herself as an architect of cutting staff and programs,” the release states. “Her budget presentations to city councilors were shameful displays of bureaucratic pandering to the mayor’s proposed school budget — which despite public outcry is still too low to maintain current services.”

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Bonner said it was the first she had heard of the no-confidence vote, a sign of the current state of communications between the two sides, she said.

“I don’t know what their justification is, because I’m just doing my job,” she said. “Because I’m doing my job, I’m holding them accountable.”

Bonner declined further comment.

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Under the currently proposed $40 million budget, around 20 full-time equivalent positions would be eliminated across the district, according to a presentation Bonner gave to the School Committee’s Budget & Property Subcommittee meeting on Monday.

Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra has increased funding for the school budget twice after initially suggesting a $38 million budget was necessary for fiscal stability, but the union and its supporters, along with parents, continues to protest against cuts, saying only a level-services budget preventing any cuts, requiring an additional $2 million, would be acceptable.

NASE’s statement on the vote also took issue with what they describe as “top-down initiatives planned for next year, lack of presence in our schools, and her disdain for students and the disparaging remarks she has made to them when they were voicing their support for school funding.”

The latter phrase refers to an April School Committee meeting where the committee ultimately voted to recommend the level-services budget. During that meeting, Lucy Braudis, an NHS student and president of the senior class, was allowed to speak during the committee’s discussion of the school budget. Braudis had previously engaged in a school walkout and participated in a sit-in at the mayor’s office in protest of the budget cuts.

Braudis listed several of the staff positions that were planned to be cut or reduced as part of the proposed budget cuts, and spoke strongly against the 4% increase proposal. In response, Bonner told Braudis she needed to be corrected on several points regarding the budget cuts and had Bobbie Jones, the school’s business director, list all of the reductions in her proposed budget. Braudis then left the room, visibly upset.

When Braudis eventually returned to the room, Bonner issued an apology to her.

“It was not my intent to respond that way,” Bonner said. “It was just said that I crushed this child, and I don’t do that.” Braudis then became upset and left the room again.

The School Committee meeting on Thursday starts at 6:30 p.m.