PITTSFIELD — As the chapter closes on our coronavirus winter, city leaders are opening a new page cautioning of an uptick in positive COVID-19 tests and case rates.
The local data follows the statewide pattern, and presents as the state prepares to step into the next phase of reopening on Monday, when the cap on public gatherings will increase, travel guidelines will loosen and certain event venues will start sputtering back to life at reduced capacity.
In light of the uptick, the city’s public health nurses are once again urging residents to keep up with COVID-19 safety guidelines, and Berkshire Medical Center reminded circulated a reminder about its free COVID-19 testing sites in Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington. The city school district will pool test student-athletes later this week at state-sponsored events planned even before a coronavirus exposure led district leaders to suspend girls’ basketball.
Meantime, city leaders are working on municipal and school budget proposals for fiscal year 2022, bolstered by a windfall of federal relief from the American Rescue Plan. According to a funding estimate prepared by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, Pittsfield stands to receive north of $33 million over this year and next, excluding the millions expected for the Pittsfield Public Schools.
Municipalities can spend the money, according to MMA, on revenue replacement, pandemic expenses, household and business aid and investments in economic recovery and water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. Finance Director Matt Kerwood last week said discussions will begin at the city level about possible expenditures when it receives spending guidance from the state or the feds.
A line-by-line accounting of the school district administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 will happen at the Pittsfield School Committee meeting 5 p.m. Wednesday. The spending proposal calls for expanding pre-kindergarten into all elementary schools and restores a few positions cut from this year’s budget.
Earlier this month, school leaders outlined how they wanted to spend a portion of the district’s $5.9 million allotment from last year’s Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, with plans including hiring 22 more staff and purchasing curriculum to address the emotional and academic tolls of the pandemic over the next two years.
Still more federal relief funds will be flowing to city schools as part of the American Rescue Plan, as districts statewide prepare to bring elementary and middle school students back to full in-person learning next month. The act sends Massachusetts $1.8 billion in emergency relief funds for reopening K-12 schools and providing student supports. School leaders said last week that the state had not released a final number for the district’s allotment, but state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said it could be several million dollars more than the last $6 million round.
On Tuesday, the City Council will take up an order from Mayor Linda Tyer to approve three land takings and several easements to make way for the spring or summer construction of a new roundabout at the thorny intersection where Woodlawn Avenue crosses Tyler Street and Dalton Avenue. Outside of the roundabout and streetscapes project, the city’s push to revitalize the Tyler Street corridor this month received a $1.1 million boost from the state, which will be spent mitigating contamination at William Stanley Business Park’s Site 9 in hopes of attracting new development.
A working group Tyer convened last fall will issue recommendations for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the city and school department workforce later this week. The mayor’s office is asking residents to give feedback on the recommendations, which will be presented in English and Spanish during two public webinars on Thursday, one at noon and again at 6 p.m.
Visit https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ozBd5I2iTUG52Kv-HlG2EA to join the noon session, and https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_9sDm1hp4TSS_DY76O7tDOw to join the 6 p.m. session.