Pittsfield City Council irked by snub to discuss school grant
PITTSFIELD -- City councilors took offense Tuesday over rejection of their invitation to the school superintendent and teachers union representatives to discuss the failure of the school district to apply for up to $20 million in Race to the Top federal grant funding.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who proposed the invitation at a prior council meeting, prompting his fellow councilors to agree unanimously.
However, the council on Tuesday received a joint statement from school Superintendent Gordon Noseworthy and Gail Yates, president of the teachers union, declining.
"The School Committee and the United Educators of Pittsfield respectfully decline your offer as we view the topic as closed and we need to move on and deal with the issues and challenges facing us," the joint letter to the council stated.
The district last month missed a deadline to apply for Race to the Top funding, estimated at up to $20 million for Pittsfield schools, and in the aftermath both the union and the superintendent placed lengthy statements in The Eagle on Nov. 14, each seeming to blame the other or a lack of communication for the failure.
The UEP members had voted overwhelmingly not to sign off on the grant application, citing concerns about the sustainability of funding and a lack of clarity on how the funds were to be spent.
Councilors rejected the idea that moving on from the incident before a full public airing is in the city's best interest. Krol, Ward 1 Councilor Christine A. Yon, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi and others noted that the school district and teachers did appear before the council in November to talk about a negotiated contract that required council approval for funding but not to discuss loss of a potential financial boost to city schools.
"I am tired of hearing that it is for the children," Yon said. If that is true in terms of paying teachers, she said, it also is true when the district has a chance to add $20 million in grant funding.
Morandi said that if a city department head had missed out on a grant, he or she would be expected to explain what happened to the council. School officials and the union should explain publicly "the lack of communication and cooperation" and "put their differences aside for the good of the city," he said.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell said, "I think everyone in the city deserves an explanation. Personally, I'm a little offended."
Councilor at-large Melissa Mazzeo and others said they considered the invitation only for an informational session, not a grilling of the school officials or teachers. She said that having read what both sides submitted to the newspaper, she could not decide who might be at fault.
In the lack of a public meeting that could "put all sides in the same room," Mazzeo said, rumors of the root cause will persist and the school district won't learn from its mistakes.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony J. Simonelli agreed, saying many residents have expressed frustration to him, adding, "A lot of people just say, ‘I can't believe we didn't apply for $20 million.' "
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