The process of building a school budget in Pittsfield or any city can be defined as balancing the needs of taxpayers with those of schools, but in fact they are the same.
Chopping positions from the school department benefits taxpayers on the surface, but not if it encourages families to move out and discourages families from moving in. The tax base is then reduced, producing a greater burden on those who remain. Neither taxpayers or the schools want that to happen.
On Wednesday night, the Pittsfield School Committee approved a $60.94 million budget for fiscal 2017 that represents an increase of 2.91 percent. (Eagle, April 28.) Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless also offered a $60.79 million alternative plan, constituting a 2.66 percent hike, that would eliminate seven positions. This plan found no favor with the board.
"We can't keep cutting, cutting, cutting until there is nothing left," said School Committee member Cynthia Taylor. She is right, although the need for an attendance coordinator at $73,000 can be questioned. This position has support among committee members who believe it helps reduce the number of drop-outs, but if the prospect of a free public education isn't enough to motivate students and impress their parents then perhaps the students are just taking up space.
Cutting teachers or high school career counselors, the latter of which are increasingly important in dealing with a demanding job market, are decisions that would send a bad message to residents and to people and businesses considering coming into the district. With ground broken on a new Taconic High School — its construction speaks well of the city's determination to provide students with a great education — Pittsfield should be careful about sending out a counter-message. The School Committee appears determined not to do that.
School enrollment aside, stagnant state funding is putting communities like Pittsfield in a bind. In past years, the Pittsfield City Council has complained about the school and city budgets in approving the necessary tax assessment without offering much in the way of specifics about what should have been reduced or eliminated. The superintendent, school department and School Committee are charged with addressing those specifics, and in trying to do well by taxpayers and students they are doing well by the city as a whole.