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Here's what's included in the first draft of the $72.3 million Pittsfield Public Schools budget proposal

PITTSFIELD — Administrators with Pittsfield Public Schools say that declining enrollment, increasing contractual costs with staff and changing post-pandemic learning needs are behind their initial request to increase the district’s budget by $5.08 million next year.

The $72.3 million draft budget represents a more than 7.5 percent increase in the money the district is asking for from the city.

School committee members, district department heads and school principals will gather Monday at Taconic High School for a four hour budget workshop — open to the public — to pore over the numbers. Here’s what you need to know about the dollars and cents they’re discussing.

How much money is the district asking the city for?

In this early version of the budget, school officials are asking for a total of $72,398,262. That’s $5,086,565 more dollars than PPS received last year.

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Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Kristen Behnke said typically school district budgets increase about 2.7 percent in any given year, so the 7.5 percent or $5 million increase is “unprecedented.”

Though Behnke and Superintendent Joe Curtis reasoned with the School Committee during recent presentations of the proposal and education funding that changes to state education funding — known as Chapter 70 — will actually only require the city council to raise $492,336 over what Pittsfield will get from the state this year in education funding.

“This [increase] is not at all a normal amount, but we also did not receive a normal amount of increase in the chapter 70 funds,” Behnke said during last week’s School Committee meeting. “The increase in Chapter 70 under the governor’s budget will fund all but about $492,000 of this.”

Where’s that money going?

The district is seeing increasing equipment, gas and software costs as the general cost of doing business in a pandemic economy continues to rise. But for the most part, the money the district is requesting this year is going to salaries. Salaries represent about 84 percent of the total proposed budget at $61 million and about 80 percent of the budget increase this year.

Teacher salaries represent the largest segment of the salary increases. In February the United Educators of Pittsfield — which represents PPS teachers — negotiated a new three-year contract with the district. The new contract guarantees members of the union a 3 percent salary increase each year.

Teacher salaries in the new proposed budget are expected to increase by about $429,000 to $26.4 million in the next fiscal year. While the salaries for the 374 teachers is a sizable chunk of the district’s budget, the new total of $26 million is only about a 1.65 percent increase over this year’s budget.

So why aren’t we seeing a 3 percent increase in this line item? That’s because the district is actually planning to lower the number of teaching positions next year by 15 positions.

Members of PFSE fill School Committee chambers during recent budget talks

District officials say the budget also includes salary dollars for members of the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees — the union representing support staff. Though representatives from PFSE are pushing back on what the district is offering by saying it's below a living wage. Members from the union gathered during the School Committee meeting last week to urge the district to compromise ahead of the PPS budget talks.

District officials say this budget also includes an increase for educational support staff, though negotiations between the district and members of the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees are far from settled over salary figures.

Does that mean layoffs?

Curtis says no. The current budget proposal suggests “reducing” the number of elementary teachers throughout the district by eight positions, the number of elementary specialist teachers by two positions and the number of high school teachers at PHS by three positions.

The superintendent said that no "pink slips" would be going to district staff over this proposal and that the changes would be accomplished primarily through one year appointments, retirements and attrition.

“We want to send that message clearly to our entire education staff, that this is not a time where layoff slips or pink slips, as they're often called, will go out,” Curtis said. “That’s not how we’ll approach this.”

Curtis said the staffing changes were being suggested in response to enrollment data that shows the student population decreasing by almost 89 students next year.

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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