Rumors undermine budget process

Monday June 11, 2012

There are no plans to eliminate Latin from the high school curriculum. Nor has the Pittsfield School Committee considered any serious proposal to cut Dean of Student positions, vice principals or permanent substitutes. Yet, the largest crowd to attend a School Committee meeting in years showed up Wednesday night and begged school officials to save programs and positions that were not endangered.

Alarming parents and students with rumors is not an effective way to conduct discussions around the all-important issue of funding our public schools. In fact, I considered this aspect of the overall city budget so important that I dedicated an entire TV show to the topic back in March, and asked School Superintendent Jake Eberwein to join me. We painted a very realistic portrait of the school budget with facts and figures. Here are the highlights:

* The School Department is receiving over $1 million for FY 2013 -- a sizable increase in city spending over last year.

* Yet, the School Department submitted a proposed budget with a $2 million increase, which means it has a $1 million gap between what the city can afford and what school officials have requested.

* Complicating the picture is the loss of almost $2 million in revenue from federal programs, including one-time federal stimulus funds that are ending. How this impasse in funding is resolved should be up to the creativity and innovation of school administrators, who know this business best. As mayor, it is my obligation to provide the school administration with fair and reasonable funding. It is the school administration's job to decide how the funds will be spent. This is their area of expertise. I have not proposed any cuts in staffing or programs.

It seems that each year around school budget season, rumors spread like wildfire and some of them are deeply upsetting to parents and students. What is particularly troubling are rumors that focus on highly emotional topics like undercutting the school budget and firing staff. The emotionalism that follows clouds the overall budget debate.

Budget season presents an annual opportunity to test our capabilities as a city and school system. Creating a spending plan that respects hard-working taxpayers while also advancing student achievement is a difficult process.

Students, teachers, parents, taxpayers and the entire community deserve our best work.



The writer is the mayor of Pittsfield.


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