PITTSFIELD — The new year brings in a new City Council and School Committee for Pittsfield. While the names and faces at city meetings may be new, much of the business may have the ring of deja vu for residents.
This week seven new faces join the city’s top leadership groups: Sara Hathaway and Vicky Smith will be the newest school committee members, Karen Kalinowsky will be the newest at large city councilor and Ken Warren, Charles Kronick, Kevin Sherman and James Conant will start work as new representatives for their respective wards on the city council.
The location change from City Hall to the college theater was made in an effort to make the in-person event more COVID-safe as the omicron variant continues to move through the community and country.
The new council and committee will hit the ground running next week with their first meetings. Here are some of the biggest pieces of business handled by each group in 2021 that new city leaders may want to study up on for the coming year.
Tote, pay or pass?
In the early months of 2021, the City Council did a lot of trash talk — contemplating a major reworking of the city’s unlimited trash collection program.
At large Councilors Peter Marchetti, Earl Persip III and Pete White proposed a ”pay-as-you-throw” program. The program would have given each resident coupons to purchase two 15-gallon bags per week at a reduced rate. After the coupons run out, residents would have the ability to purchase additional trash bags at the full cost of the bags.
The proposal was an attempt to encourage recycling and cut city costs around trash collection. But after weeks of debate, criticism and confusion from residents and councilors alike, the council voted to table discussion of the program for a later date — likely this year.
The tower on the hill
The Verizon Wireless cell tower perched at 877 South Street has become so much more than another anonymous metal structure in the city. The tower and the process around its permitting, construction and continued operation near Alma Street residences have launched an ongoing lawsuit and a series of reforms to city abutter notification rules.
In August, the City Council voted unanimously to expand the required notice of abutters from 300 to 500 feet and to mandate that notices be sent by certified mail at the behest of former and current neighbors to the tower.
In October, the council voted 9-1 to send a letter to state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office requesting an investigation into the permitting process for the tower.
Last month, neighbors of the tower attempted to get the council to take up additional petitions that would require the city to include ward councilors in abutter notifications for special permit projects, post physical signage “at both the street and construction address,” include plain language like “cell tower” in the abutter notice for wireless facilities and use the city’s Code Red phone system to notify residents about a proposed cell tower construction.
While those petitions made it to the agenda of the council’s Rules and Ordinances subcommittee, they ultimately failed to make much traction because the petitioners hadn’t secured signatures from 10 resident voters to make the petitions official. The petitioners told the council they’d return this year with the necessary signatures.
A task force for school equity
The Pittsfield Public Schools has launched a task force that will guide the district’s long- and short-term planning around improving equity in the district.
The newly created Equity Task Force had its first meeting early last month, which served as an introduction to district staff, administrators, students and community members who will work together in the coming months. The next meeting — set for Tuesday — promises to be a substantive review of student and staff experiences on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
The group is being facilitated by consultants from SchoolWorks, an agency the district hired last year to conduct an extensive equity audit of the city schools.
Superintendent Joseph Curtis said during a review of the audit’s results with the school committee in September that while there are “pockets of quality diversity and equity initiatives” in the district, there’s a lot of work to be done.
School resource officers revisited
The Pittsfield Public Schools is in the early stages of a community survey on school safety. The impetus for the survey was largely the question around whether the school community felt that school resource officers would improve safety and learning at district schools.
The district has had SROs for years and in August signed a new memorandum of understanding with the Pittsfield Police Department for staffing of officers through the current school year. But that relationship has been questioned by some school committee and community members alike about whether having police in schools is necessary or sends the right message to students.
Curtis said in September that the district decided to hire consultant TNTP to conduct an in-depth community survey on the topic rather than risk a surface level discussion. At recent School Committee meetings Curtis said that the team from TNTP has begun talks with community organizations about hosting several community forums.
The committee voted in September to halt all discussion of SROs until TNTP’s could present the results of its survey — a presentation Curtis said can be expected in April or May.