Pittsfield School Committee OKs $63.5M school budget request


PITTSFIELD — The School Committee approved a $63.5 million budget request for the coming fiscal year during its meeting on Tuesday.

The spending plan, which requires City Council approval during the city budget process next month, reflects an increase of about $3 million over the current year — a rise of about five percent.

The state is poised to give the city more than ever in school reimbursements, which lands amid a larger conversation about the commonwealth's school funding formula. Superintendent Jason McCandless had originally planned to use about $500,000 more of the cash infusion, but decided to rein in spending after talks with Mayor Linda Tyer.

The city expects a $3.7 million increase to its state reimbursement, and the revised proposal leaves about $700,000 for the city to use toward school building maintenance and health insurance costs for school employees.

Though multiple School Committee members had expressed disappointment in saving funds for administrative and capital needs during the last meeting, the Tuesday vote was unanimous and involved little discussion.

In order to achieve the savings McCandless presented earlier this month, he nixed a plan to add 14 paraprofessionals to the city's elementary schools. Those additions would have allowed teachers much-anticipated down time for common planning.

Achieving that goal is "still a work in progress," Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Kristen Behnke said after the meeting.

Still, McCandless has said the influx in state funds allows him to make unprecedented additions to the city's schools

They include:

- School safety and security improvements totaling $250,000.

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- Curriculum exploration to the tune of $250,000.

- Four academic interventionist teachers to some of the city's elementary schools: one each at Morningside Community School, Egremont Elementary School, Williams Elementary School, and one split between Capeless and Stearns Elementary schools.

- Five special education coordinators. The plan is to add a full-time special education instruction and accountability coordinator each at Crosby and Egremont Elementary schools, and split three others among the district's other six elementary schools.

- Two special education instruction and accountability coordinators, stationed at the city's high schools.

- Five new teachers at Taconic to fill new programs and respond to a boost in enrollment. The full-time teachers would cover math, electrical, horticulture, early education and auto body.

- A full-time reading teacher for Taconic High School's Read 180 program. That program is intended to help students make quick gains in their reading levels.

- A consultant to help implement restorative justice practices. This is needed because "we think the stakes are so high," McCandless said.

- A $50,000 spending budget for the district's cultural competency coach.

- One intervention teacher for Crosby's therapeutic program.

- One teacher of deportment for Crosby's therapeutic program.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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