Pittsfield officials outline further fiscal 2016 school budget cuts

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PITTSFIELD >> Administration officials on Monday outlined for School Committee members the final $730,856 in spending reductions they propose to deal with an anticipated fiscal 2016 budget shortfall of just over $2 million.

At a prior meeting, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless and Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance, had described $1.3 million in reductions that included elimination of 28 full-time equivalent teaching and other staff positions.

The programs currently offered by the school system will "not be devastated," McCandless said, but the next budget leaves the system with almost no funding in reserve to meet unanticipated expenses and cuts back on traditional funding for adult education, preschool and other programs outside the legal requirement to provide kindergarten through 12th grade education.

The remaining staff members also will have to fill roles now covered by curriculum specialists and other employees.

The committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Pittsfield High School on its fiscal 2016 budget plan, and a vote to adopt a budget to send to the mayor and City Council is set for April 29.

Nearly half the reductions outlined Monday would be derived from covering the cost for some staff positions now funded by the city with grant allocations the system receives, such as for specialized educational services, and by reducing other expenses paid for through the grants.

In addition, the administrators recommended cuts in technology equipment and vocational equipment and supplies; student testing costs, and the homebound tutoring and public relations line items.

And the projected revenues and reimbursments administrators anticipate receiving now contain little or no cushion should special education, energy or other costs soar.

In answer to a question, McCandless said the schools would "have to go back to the City Council" if spending emergencies arise, because those rollover budget accounts that do not have to be depleted each year — traditionally used to provide funds in reserve — have been spent "down to zero."

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In the reductions McCandless announced at the prior meeting, the equivalent of 28 staff positions would be eliminated. Asked by committee member Daniel Elias Monday how many of those people might be rehired because of the vacancies that arise at the end of the school year, the superintendent said he expects at least 20 would be retained, although likely in new positions.

The proposed job cuts include four teacher positions from Taconic High School, three from Reid Middle School, along with two special education teacher jobs; two teacher and two special education teacher jobs at Herberg Middle School; a paraprofessional job from Conte Community School; two vocational and one health technician teaching posts; a paraprofessional post from Pittsfield High School; $106,281 from the adult education program; $224,327 from the teen parent tutoring program, which will be restructured; a teacher post and three paraprofessional jobs from the Parent Child Home Program; early childhood coordinator, STEM coordinator and humanities coordinator positions; two technology instructional staff positions, and Central Office staff reductions.

McCandless said the budget shortfall is caused by a $4 million hike in salary and other anticipated cost increases next year, plus the loss of some grant funding, requiring major budget reductions — despite a recommended $2 million increase in funding from the city.

He said he and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi are in agreement on recommending a $1.9 million hike in the city's allocation to the schools, or 3.5 percent more than this year, for a total of $58.5 million.

Committee member Pamela Farron asked Monday whether a higher increase could be asked of the city since Pittsfield is taxing at more than $8 million below the amount allowed under Proposition 2 1/2 spending limits.

McCandless said that would require more than a 5 percent hike, which he said he believes city government officials believe might be beyond the city's ability to pay.

He added that many districts statewide annually face a 5 to 8 percent increase in costs. At past meetings, McCandless said state aid to schools has been inadequate for several years to assist with the rising costs school districts are facing.

Chairwoman Katherine Yon said she is hopeful the Legislature will restore some or all of the previous funding for kindergarten programs that otherwise would result in a $370,000 reduction for Pittsfield.

McCandless said that is one area of the budget — along with steep anticipated increases for heating and electricity — that officials hope prove inaccurate, providing additional funds for next year.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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