Pittsfield School Committee OKs fiscal 2015 budget


This article was updated Thursday to correct the loan term for the purchase of new school buses.

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield School Committee wants taxpayers to spend an extra $1 million on education in the new fiscal year.

By a 5-0, Anthony Riello and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi absent, the school board Wednesday night adopted a $57.2 million operating budget for fiscal 2015, starting July 1. Pending City Council approval in June, the proposed spending plan will reflect a nearly 1.8 percent increase over the current $56.2 million budget.

Bianchi, who attended the meeting but was unexpectedly detained during the vote, says the spending plan is financial and educationally sound.

"We're not losing any positions, we're not losing any program, rather we've made adjustments to the budget to handle the increase," he said.

However, committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon is worried the potential difficulty in coming up with the fiscal 2016 budget.

"My fear is next year," she said. "Our budget is lean and there's things we will need."

The $1 million spending hike is the net result of several increases, the biggest a $1.3 million bump in negotiated salaries for teachers and staffs combined with reductions that include $167,000 in heating and electricity cost projections according to Kristen Behnke, assistant school superintendent for business and finance.

"We will also save $90,000 on bus maintenance as [part of] our new fleet arrives this summer," Behnke noted. "The order is in place and we hope to have at least half ready for the road when school starts."

Last week, the council approved a $2.7 million school bus purchase plan to replace the city's current fleet of school busses with 43 new familiar yellow vehicles before September. The city is taking out a five-year loan to pay for the project. The existing 52 buses being traded in to help finance the replacement cost were bought all at once eight years ago.

Of the $57.2 million, the School Committee is requesting the city fund $56.5 million through taxation, with $710,000 in tuition revenue and school choice funds covering the difference.

Based on Bianchi's projected city budget of $148.1 million for fiscal 2015, school spending will account for 38 percent of the expenditures. In a joint City Council-School Committee meeting prior to the regular school board gathering at Pittsfield High School, the mayor said, the overall municipal could increase $4.4 million above the current city budget of $143.7 million. Bianchi anticipates property taxes will fund half the proposed budget, with direct state-aid accounting for one-third of the revenue. The mayor and his administration are still working on the spending plan, which he will formally unveil to the council later this month.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
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