Pittsfield School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless has painted a grim, honest picture of what lies ahead. Painful cuts will be balanced against a need for more revenue that would also cause pain in its raising.
The problems facing Pittsfield public schools are not unique, but problems will always be magnified in economically challenged urban communities. The city is asked to meet state and federal mandates while receiving the same or less funding from government, and a variety of costs rise beyond the city's capacity to match them in revenue. This combination of factors, the superintendent warned the School Committee Wednesday night (Eagle, January 30), makes it unlikely that the School Department will be able to present a level-funded budget for fiscal 2017.
Public schools are scapegoated in communities everywhere, and Pittsfield is certainly no exception. The superintendent addressed some of this criticism by noting that Pittsfield ranks 10th out of 16 Berkshire school districts in average teacher salary, countering claims that salaries are extravagant, and while the city loses a comparatively large amount of state aid because of students leaving the district, the percentage of students choicing out is comparatively low in relation to other Berkshire districts.
Every Berkshire district must find ways to keep costs down. One way is to hold off on pay increases for faculty and administrators at a time when wages in the private sector are frozen or in decline. Every Berkshire district must also fulfil its responsibility to students, which Pittsfield is working hard to do. The harsh reality, however, is that barring more help from the state (take note, Legislature), fulfilling that responsibility will become more difficult.