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Pittsfield public schools and an employees union have been in contract talks for months. They're asking the state to help mediate

Members of PFSE fill School Committee chambers during recent budget talks

Members from the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees gathered during the School Committee meeting last month to urge the district to compromise ahead of the Pittsfield Public Schools budget talks. Now the union and committee are headed to mediation with state provided mediators to sort out the contract.

PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield School Committee and the union representing some school employees are looking for help in their efforts to negotiate a new contract.

The Pittsfield Federation of School Employees, which represents paraprofessionals, bus drivers and attendants, cafeteria workers, custodians and educational secretaries, and the School Committee have agreed to ask the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations to help mediate.

The parties have been in negotiations since last summer. Contracts with the union's custodian and education secretary units expired in June and the bus driver and attendant, cafeteria worker and paraprofessional contracts expired in August. 

Superintendent Joseph Curtis has said that salary increases in the Pittsfield Public School's proposed FY23 budget are some of the largest in recent history. Members of the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees say they've been left out of those increases and are asking district officials to meet their request for higher wages.

"The School Committee has concluded that the assistance of a mediator at this stage of bargaining will help us reach a settlement that is both fair to our employees and cognizant of the committee’s responsibilities over the three years we expect the final agreement to cover," School Committee Vice Chair Dan Elias said in a press release Thursday.

Elias, who chairs the committee's personnel and negotiations subcommittee, said that the request for mediation has the backing of the entire committee and that it thinks that mediation is "a positive step toward reaching an agreement.”

Members of the PFSE have flooded school committee meetings in recent weeks, pleading with School Committee members to meet their requests for pay raises ahead of the school district's budgeting season.

Union members have said in recent weeks that the difference between their proposal for pay increases and the School Committee's contract proposals is $690,000 over the course of a three-year contract.

Members have calculated that if the district increased their current pay proposal for union salaries for the next school year by $65,000, the union's pay requests would be met. 

School district officials have proposed a $72.3 million budget for next year. The proposed budget represents a $5 million increase over the current fiscal 2022 budget — $4.7 million of which would cover negotiated pay increases according to Superintendent Joseph Curtis. 

The PFSE is the last of the unions representing school employees without a negotiated contract.

The United Educators of Pittsfield, which represents teachers within the district, negotiated a 3 percent pay raise each year of its new three-year contract with the district in February.

The Pittsfield Educational Administrators' Association, which represents deans, principals, assistant superintendents, school psychologists and adjustment counselors, negotiated a new three-year contract adopted by the School Committee in August. The contract increased salaries 0.5 percent this school year and 2 percent in the following two school years.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6149.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

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