Pittsfield schools brace for cut in state aid as as district's fiscal future uncertain
PITTSFIELD — A 10 percent cut in state aid to Pittsfield Public Schools would mean closing two of the city's 12 school buildings.
School Superintendent Jason McCandless made that startling analogy as the Pittsfield School Committee puts forth a new $65.1 million budget that the board hopes is devoid of a drastic cut in Chapter 70 money, the annual state funding for K-12 public education. The proposed spending plan the Pittsfield School Committee adopted last week for fiscal 2021 calls for eliminating 24 teacher or paraprofessional positions.
It needs final approval from the City Council.
McCandless told the seven-person committee on Wednesday during a virtual meeting that public school officials across the commonwealth are bracing for a 10 percent — possibly 15 percent — reduction in state aid due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said based on fiscal 2020 figures, cutting Chapter 70 funds by 10 percent as of July 1 would result in $4.77 million less revenue for the city school system. Chapter 70 money pays for about two-thirds of the city's school expenses.
"This is a staggering amount of money and it would require about six or seven times the number of cuts we're discussing tonight," he said. "A 10 percent cut would be akin to closing a school and in reality, akin to closing two schools."
The Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker are still working on the fiscal 2021 state budget that officials say will likely reflect a significant loss in revenue since the global outbreak hit Massachusetts hard in mid-March.
The school board's $65.1 million budget reflects $1.4 million in cuts. The decrease will offset scheduled teacher/staff pay hikes and other expenses to maintain a level-funded spending plan, school district officials have said.
Nearly all the 24 teacher/paraprofessional positions would be eliminated through attrition and retirements. Five nonclassroom jobs are also targeted to be cut from the district's payroll.
"This is the most economical and ethical way to approach this budget," said School Committee member Mark Brazeau.
Brazeau hopes the proposed budget holds up so local public education can return to "as much normalcy as possible" come September. Public schools across the state have been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus, with teachers conducting distance learning with their students.
City government leaders are also anticipating a significant rollback in their state aid. Mayor Linda Tyer, a school committee member by virtue of her position, said municipalities across the commonwealth could see up to 15 percent less state money than the current fiscal year ending June 30.
"While it is important for us to build a budget and get it in place by July 1, we have to acknowledge that in the next six months or so we'll have to continue to amend our budgets in response to the economical realities," she said.
The City Council has yet to review and debate a proposed budget for fiscal 2021. If the new spending plan does need revision after July 1, Tyer hopes any revisions up or down are done before the local tax rate is set, usually in late November or early December.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com.
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