Pittsfield school budget up by $2.3 million for fiscal 2017 as committee review begins

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PITTSFIELD — After crunching total revenue and expenditure projections for fiscal 2017, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless is forwarding to the School Committee a budget requiring a $2.29 million increase in the city's appropriation over the current school year.

The preliminary budget, which was outlined in a presentation before the committee last week, will be reviewed Wednesday during a public hearing, followed by a committee meeting.

The board has set a target date of April 13 for adoption of a fiscal 2017 school budget, which is due by May 1 for submission to the mayor and City Council. Mayor Linda M. Tyer will later submit an overall city budget plan to the council for hearings and a vote in June.

Tyer, who is an ex officio member of the School Committee, said Friday it is too early for a final determination on the budget figure she will submit to the council within the city budget.

"The bottom line has to be taken into the full context of every department's priorities and we're not there yet," she said in an email.

McCandless said the projected school budget now reflects an increase of 3.91 percent in the city's appropriation for the schools, or $2,290,000. The appropriation would rise from $58.5 million to $60.8 million if the spending plan is approved as is.

The superintendent said the figures are based on cost projections for state aid, grant funding, an expected $600,000 savings in energy costs; new budget requests totaling $265,000, possible revenue reductions of $277,000, and an estimated $1.68 million in raises for four groups of employees now in new contract negotiations with the committee and for three other groups that have settled contracts.

Those groups still involved in negotiations are custodians, cafeteria workers, clerical workers and paraprofessionals.

Other increases are expected in higher tuition for special education students, up by an estimated $440,000; the return of previously grant-funded positions to the local budget, costing $228,000; and a reduction of $152,000 in a kindergarten education grant of $288,000 the district now receives.

Many of the current cost and revenue estimates could change, administration officials told committee members, depending on the final level of Chapter 70 state aid — there is support in the Legislature to add to the total proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

The level of grant funding for kindergarten education approved by lawmakers also could change, and the exact salary costs won't be known until contract negotiations are completed.

In his presentation, McCandless noted that, after settlement of faculty and staff contracts last year and other budget increases and revenue reductions, the district was left about $4 million short of a level-services budget in planning for the current school year.

Although a nearly $2 million school tax increase ultimately was approved by former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and the council, the 2015-16 budget required cutting $2 million in existing programming and staff positions, McCandless said.

As was the case last spring, he said, the administration is focusing on meeting the core responsibilities of the school system and partnering with community organizations where possible to handle roles in adult education and other areas that the schools were better able to fund in the past.

The superintendent also displayed charts to put the school system's spending in perspective when compared to others in the region. He said the figures show Pittsfield is in the middle to lower third on the list among Berkshire County communities in spending per capita, and in the middle when compared to similar cities in the state on education spending.

McCandless also reiterated the statements of school officials and others locally and statewide that state Chapter 70 aid levels to schools have flattened out in recent years and should be increased.

And he reiterated that "unfunded mandates," such as for required standardized testing, add significantly to the Pittsfield budget. He estimated the cost at more than $300,000 this year, not counting many hours of staff time to implement the mandates, which McCandless said could hike the overall cost three or four times.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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