Look Ahead: Pittsfield school openings will look different

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PITTSFIELD -- There's much in the way of city business coming up this week, so let's dive in.

At Wednesday's remote meeting of the Pittsfield School Committee, members will consider retiring the Braves mascot at Taconic High School, which would add Pittsfield to the list of Massachusetts school districts that have or are considering ending use of Native American imagery many have long viewed as offensive. Meanwhile, following sustained protests by indigenous leaders, the senate late last month voted to form a commission tasked with designing a replacement for the current state seal, which depicts a Native man standing beneath a sword-wielding arm.

The committee will vote to officially amend the 2020-2021 school calendar to push the first day of school for city students back to Tuesday, Sept. 15. Last week, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said that based on the status of collective bargaining with the district's teacher and employee unions, it's likely most students will begin the school year remotely then transition to partial-day, in-person instruction.

Before all that happens, the City Council on Tuesday will work its way through a 40-item agenda. Kicking things off, councilors will be asked to sign off on Mayor Linda Tyer's appointments to the Mobile Home Rent Control Board, Conservation Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and Cultural Committee.

Also by way of Tyer's appointment, the Pittsfield Police Department is welcoming four new officers, Colin Benner, Craig Jones, Ansy Jumeau and Alissa McDonald.

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Councilors will weigh proposals for three Tax Increment Exemption agreements for redevelopment projects, the first AM Management LLC's Eastview Apartments project that would create 27 housing units at 235 East St.

Mill Town Capital is seeking a pair of exemptions to redevelop 730-745 Tyler St. to offer 20 market rate rental units, and to rehabilitate 765 Tyler St. into 16 housing units and two retail spaces.

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Councilors approved an initial set of Community Preservation Act funding requests, and another round of local projects could soon receive a financial boost. Councilors on Tuesday will green-light or toss funding requests for five more projects, each recommended by the Community Preservation Committee.

The requests are $25,000 to West Part Cemetery to hire a conservator to preserve gravestones, $25,000 to the Berkshire Athenaeum to digitize City Parks Department scrapbooks, $110,000 to the Berkshire Family YMCA for facade and window improvements, $30,000 to the Berkshire County Historical Society for restoration of the Arrowhead Barn and $33,000 for the irrigation project at Deming Park.

Just last month, spurred by a petition submitted by Helen Moon and Patrick Kavey, councilors asked Tyer to look into translating the city's website and official communications into Spanish.

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Now, Tyer is proposing a new Bilingual Pay Policy, which would provide incentives up to $175 per month to municipal employees with essential job duties that require a "substantial amount" of bilingual communication in Spanish, Portugese, Russian, French or American Sign Language. According to the proposed amendment, employees who receive the incentive would be expected to help translate for others as needed.

With concerns about homelessness in the region mounting, councilors Chris Connell, Kavey, Kevin Morandi and Ed Carmel of the Homeless Commission filed petitions on the council's docket Tuesday that seek financial support. One petition requests $75,000 from free cash to help unsheltered individuals acquire housing, and another asks the city to dedicate 5 percent "the marijuana tax revenue" to a not-yet-created revolving fund that would be used to assist the homelesses.

Community Development Board member Elizabeth Herland raised questions about Connell's residency in the city, and submitted a petition asking the council to find out whether her ward councilor has "removed himself" from the city. In a recent Facebook post, Connell disclosed that he had sold his home on Dawes Avenue to live with and care for his mother, and later concluding it wasn't safe to be in close contact with her during the pandemic.

He went on to say that he had been spending "most of my time" at his condo to avoid getting his mother sick. Maintaining that he still holds residency in the city, Connell told WAMC that he spends at least two days a week in Pittsfield, and has homeowners insurance on a Pittsfield property that is also listed on his driver's license.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.


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