Opening schools this fall will be a daunting task for school officials and faculty in the county and state. Having to do it short-handed because of budget cuts would make it even more formidable a chore.
Because of COVID-19, schools are required by the state to develop three different models of learning: remote learning, a hybrid of remote learning and in-person instruction and an in-person model that complies with stringent health and safety guidelines. This is coming after schools were abruptly closed and remote learning begun last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Baker and educational officials said Thursday that ideally they want to resume traditional classes within school buildings, with the governor saying that "Continued isolation poses very real risks to our kids' mental and physical health, and to their educational development."
Designing and executing these three models, and quickly switching from one to another if circumstances dictate, will be a formidable challenge. But the economic lockdown of the state necessitated by COVID-19 has dramatically reduced state revenue and could considerably reduce the state's funding for local school districts, depriving them of the flexibility they will need.
Pittsfield Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, in the event of a 10 percent reduction in aid, is looking at a worse case scenario of 140 position cuts. This includes eight administrators — who are often overlooked when the subject turns to schools — but it is they who will be making the unprecedented designs for the coming school year.
Mr. McCandless told The Eagle that his staff has been working on reopening plans since April and other Berkshire school districts are in various stages of preparation as well. ("Pittsfield school chief talks getting back to school," Eagle, June 26.) All county school districts will be impacted to one degree or another by state budget cuts, but Pittsfield and North Adams, the county's two cities, would likely be hit the hardest.
1st District Congressman Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is pushing a House-passed $3 trillion aid package that among other things would help out school districts across the nation. Its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is uncertain to say the least. Members of the Berkshire legislative delegation are joining their colleagues around the state in advocating for the tapping of alternate revenue sources, most likely the state's $3 1/2 billion rainy day fund, to reduce the impact of funding cuts. Gov Baker said Thursday that it will be another month before state allocations for the coming fiscal year are determined.
The significant budget cut scenarios cannot be allowed to materialize. A school year that is going to be a challenge for administrators, teachers, students and parents would be monumentally difficult if personnel is slashed on top of everything else.