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Pittsfield City Council Rejects School Budget Proposal

A stone building with a colonnade lit by lights sits in front of a brick churck and a street lamp
Josh Landes
Pittsfield, Massachusetts City Hall

In a 6-4 vote, the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council voted to send the proposed 2021 school department budget back to committee.

After last week’s motion faileddue to a last minute technical issue affecting Ward 4 councilor Christopher Connell, Ward 1 councilor Helen Moon found support to move her bid to reject the proposed budget through the council Wednesday night.

“We’re here and having this conversation because we really do care about the effects that this budget process has to the citizens of Pittsfield and the long-term effects of reducing those resources during a pandemic,” she said.

The proposed level-funded budget called for $1.4 million in cuts, and the elimination of 26 positions. While Superintendent Jake McCandless explained that only three individuals would actually lose their jobs in the plan, Moon rejected it as a best-case scenario for the community.

“It still means that we’re not refilling those positions that we would refill if it was not this year. Maybe not all of them – I’ve heard that loud and clear from Dr. McCandless – maybe not all of them, but if it was any other year and we had the dollars, we would be refilling,” said the councilor.

Ward 6 councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi reversed her vote from last week, explaining to WAMC she was concerned about the added pressures of the pandemic on students and teachers.

"I voted the way I did because we ended up eliminating $100,000.00 from the police department’s budget. And ideally, I really would like to see that money put back into the school department,” she said.

If the council does not pass a school budget by July 1st, it would require the city to adopt a monthly budget for the district.

“I understand that one of the big concerns is having to adopt a 1/12th budget if we don’t accept the school department’s budget in time for July 1st – and I want to make it clear that I do not support having to adopt a 1/12th budget – but I do think that we owe it our teachers and we especially owe it to our students to at least give the mayor and the school committee an opportunity to look at the budget again and see if we can put that $100,000 toward our future,” said the councilor.

“We brought forward a budget that we believed would serve our children. This notion that the level funded budget before you eviscerates programming and opportunities for children, I don’t believe that to be true or I would not have represented our administration in bringing it forward, nor ask the school committee to approve it," said Superintendent Jake McCandless. “And I remain most concerned – particularly in a 1/12th situation – that the other 125 or 103 non-renewal notices we gave out, we’re going to lose those folks to other districts, we’re going to add difficulty on top of stress and difficulty, and I encourage you to reconsider not voting this budget tonight.”

Moon rejected what she described as fear tactics around passing the budget hastily.

“There are communities like Amherst, Adams, Lowell, Williamstown, Plymouth, Sutton, Concord – they’re all considering 1/12th budgets and have passed 1/12th budgets,” she said.

Ward 2 councilor Kevin Morandi, who voted to send the budget back to the school committee last week, abstained from Wednesday night’s vote. After initially inaccurately saying last week’s vote had not happened, he told WAMC that he had recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest, saying that “an immediate family member is involved” in the school budget. Morandi says he will not further participate in votes on the issue.

At the meeting, the council also passed the remainder of the budget – around $105 million – 8 to 3, with only at-large city councilors and Tyer administration loyalists Peter Marchetti, Earl Persip, and Pete White against it. The coalition behind the incomplete budget saw progressives like Moon and conservatives like Connell and Morandi unite against Mayor Linda Tyer’s initial proposal.

Council President Marchetti tells WAMC that he is considering a special city council meeting for June 25th to hear a new school budget proposal.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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