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Pittsfield School Budget Calls For 28 Job Cuts

Jim Levulis

Pittsfield’s School Committee has approved a $59 million budget for 2016 that includes cutting 28 full-time positions. The committee voted 6 to 1 in favor of the spending plan earlier this week.The budget calls for the city of Pittsfield to appropriate $58.5 million to the school district, an increase of nearly $2 million from the previous year’s spending plan. Superintendent Jason McCandless says $4 million is needed to maintain level services.

“One full million of that $4 million is special ed[ucation] costs,” McCandless said. “Extraordinary special education cost. Costs that the public schools bear on behalf of the community to educate a relatively small number of students who need highly-specialized, very expensive programming.”

To close the $2 million budget gap, the school district is seeking to cut 28 full-time jobs. McCandless says the positions, ranging from regular and special education teachers to coordinators and administrative staff, are spread out across the district and include schools where student numbers have dropped.

“In some of the cases, particularly the central office positions and specific programs that we are cutting back or eliminating, we are going to have to find other ways to do the work,” he said. “That’s going to mean more for people in the central office and principals.”

McCandless estimates the personnel cuts will save $1.25 million. Contractual obligations of $1.4 million, rising utility costs and payments for a new fleet of buses added to the budget crunch this year. City residents have raised concerns about why some of the district’s 1,200 employees are getting raises while the schools are facing tough financial times. McCandless says contracts and the pay hikes that come with them represent agreements between two parties that need to be honored.

“For most of our staff that’s really the only way to ultimately get to a point where this profession pays enough that you can staff in the profession and continue to serve students,” McCandless said. “So we did not feel it was appropriate to ask people to forego that which is guaranteed them by a contract.”

McCandless adds that retaining employees is good for the district in the long-term. Longtime educator Katherine Yon chairs the school committee and voted to approve the budget.

“None of us really wanted to vote for it,” Yon said. “It wasn’t a rosy picture. But then you have to come to terms with reality and where do we go with it.”

Cynthia Taylor was the only committee member to vote against the budget, saying she cast her vote for the students.

McCandless has warned of the stress the district is under as 65 percent of its 5,800 students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Ten years ago that figure was 40 percent when the district had 6,500 students. McCandless says the district also plans to contract out work to community organizations for teen parenting and other extracurricular programs in order to save money with the hopes of limiting the impact on the people served by the programs. The only growth area outside of contractual obligations includes the addition of four to six adjustment or behavioral counselors as well as additional staff mental health training. McCandless says the cuts and the anticipated $2 million from the city should put the district in a better position next year. The city council will review the entire municipal budget over the next couple months. 

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts School Building Authority is expected to vote on a new Taconic High School June 3rdIn April, the Pittsfield City Council approved borrowing $121 million for the school of which the city would foot $40 to $45 million.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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