With the latest alarming school choice figures having arrived, Pittsfield more than ever needs to find out why students are leaving for neighboring schools. The city must learn if the problem is one of perception or of reality.

Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless reported this week to the School Committee that 531 Pittsfield students are attending school in other towns this year while only 82 nonresidents are attending city schools. When students leave the school system, the system is penalized financially, this year to the tune of $3.3 million, which represents 6 percent of the budget. This is plainly counterproductive because the lost revenue makes it more difficult to address whatever problems may be prompting students to leave, which will lead to more lost students, more lost revenue and an increasingly vicious circle.

Over the years, there has been the perception that class sizes are too high in Pittsfield, that there is not enough variety in subjects, and that there are discipline issues, in particular at the middle school level. If these are false perceptions, the city must get out the word, and if they are reality, change must be made. There are, of course, funding realities that have to be acknowledged, which is a major reason why urban schools are often hamstrung in trying to make needed improvements.

As Mr. McCandless observed, the choice process in the state makes it difficult for a district that is losing a student to find out before it is a done deal. This must change. School districts must be able to learn why for two important reasons -- so they can have an opportunity to persuade parents to keep their child in the school, and, failing that, to learn what the issue is so it can be corrected. Districts hurt by choice are not being given a chance to respond.