PITTSFIELD — Embracing a mantra repeated by leaders citywide, the Pittsfield Public Schools Committee has approved a budget that's a quarter million dollars less than the current year.
"We are all in this together" is a phrase posted on Mayor Linda M. Tyer's office door and was uttered by several committee members during its meeting Wednesday.
"I don't support the budget — I am certainly going to vote for the budget," said committee member Pamela Farron. "We have to do it. We are all in it together."
Arriving at the $60,686,338 fiscal 2018 budget meant an initial about $3 million in cuts, including nearly 76 layoff notices that will be sent to teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrative staff, although Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said more than half of those positions might be retained through attrition.
The reduced budget required a series of other compromises.
The district's teaching staff rallied together and voted to delay its step pay increase and the administration was flexible on the amount it planned to spend on new curriculum.
Those moves are estimated to save as many as eight teaching jobs slated to be cut, McCandless said.
"This budget is painful on personal and professional levels," he said. "However, it does not substantively diminish programming, substantively diminish course offerings, or opportunity for our clients" — its students.
But he warned without an influx of revenue it's unlikely the district could keep cuts away from student programs next year.
District leaders and committee members commended the teachers delayed pay increase, which will save about $300,000, he said. "Steps are the lone means for people who have invested in advanced degrees to reach a salary commensurate with the importance and value of the work they do," he said.
McCandless has said throughout the budget process curriculum money has long been wanting in the district. Curriculum is the lone new line item in the budget, set for $250,000. But that's half the amount district leaders had hoped to spend.
Chapter 70 state education funding pays for 67 percent of the school budget. However, McCandless said that, coupled with funding from the city, "is not enough money to do the work."
Both committee members and City Councilors have called on the community to urge state leaders to change the way the state funds education. The funding formula has gone largely unchanged since its was rolled out in 1993.
Approved by committee on Wednesday, the budget is forwarded to the council for its consideration in the coming weeks. All committee members expressed disappointment with the budget and pointed out cuts they found particularly distressing. But the majority of the committee regarded the decreased budget as its only option, with Cynthia Taylor casting the lone dissenting vote.
While she would have supported a level funded budget, Taylor said she could not support a 0.4 percent budget decrease.
"Schools are not just educating anymore, we are raising kids very often," Taylor said. "We have to give them everything we can. Every benefit of the doubt."
Early childhood education is eliminated in the budget, which Taylor said she was also opposed to.
District administrators have said they are not legally obligated to provide preschool and added those classes will be available elsewhere in the city.
Committee member Daniel Elias said the budget "turned his stomach."
"I don't approve of this budget," he said. "And despite looking and trying I have no better answers."
With the city unable to generate additional revenue through taxes, Mayor Linda M. Tyer requested all budgets be level funded. That means the amount of money budgeted for in fiscal 2018 will be no higher than the current year.
Committee member Anthony Riello asked if the district's budget needed to be less than that. Tyer said, "it is appreciated."
"I can tell you that, as of today, we only have $31,000 in excess levy," she said. "On the municipal side, you will see every department either level-funded or below level."
School Committee member Joshua Cutler said he's concerned cuts to attendance officers will have a negative long-term impact assuring at-risk students show up for school.
The district's attendance coordinator position will go unfunded in 2018, a savings of $74,482.
And district attendance officers remain unfunded; a role that was last funded in fiscal 2015 for $70.617.
Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon urged those working in its 12 schools to work to be as optimistic as possible.
"We can give up or we can push to move forward," she said. "Students know very little about the budget, they only know you are still there. They count on you."
Speaking during public comment about its decision to delay its contractual pay increases until January, United Educators of Pittsfield President Brendan Sheran urged the community to speak up for education.
"Let's keep working together to take the fight really where it has to go, which would be the State House," he said.
He asked people to attend a rally for public education set for May 20 in Boston.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo