Pittsfield school officials feared state aid cuts, layoffs. Instead, they're getting a boost

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PITTSFIELD — Less than two months after confronting the fear of deep state-aid cuts, and potentially devastating layoffs, the Pittsfield school district has learned that it actually will receive slightly more state funding than it did last year.

Under an agreement between the Baker administration and legislators, the state has committed to funding schools at the level they were last year, plus additional funds to account for inflation and changing enrollment.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said that with school districts staring down the start of the fall semester amid a pandemic, the Legislature sought to avoid "anything that would resemble cuts" to K-12 education funding.

"Our students are confronting so much uncertainty both in the last academic year and heading into the new one that, if anything, we'll need more money to compensate for those challenges that students and educators are confronted with," said Hinds, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Revenue.

Pittsfield Public Schools will receive a $477,007 inflation increase, raising its state funding allocation to just under $48.2 million, according to Finance Director Matthew Kerwood. The School Committee, and later the City Council, accepted a school spending plan before the fiscal year ended June 30 that assumed state funding would, at the very least, remain whole. It was an optimistic assumption for some, and Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless took to calling it the "best-case scenario" for school spending this year.

Administrators were, however, also getting ready to respond to a possible decline in state education funds of 10 percent or beyond, sending out approximately 140 "pink slips" to employees beginning the second week of June.

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Families, teachers and students have the state's word that such declines won't come to pass.

"With this educational funding in place, level-funded plus some for inflation, we ought to be able to rescind the reduction-in-force notices that we were forced to issue back in the late spring," said Mayor Linda Tyer, who sits on the School Committee.

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The district was set to begin rescinding some of the notices last month — 40 to 60 of them — as the state funding picture improved.

Neither McCandless, who recently accepted a new position as superintendent of the Mount Greylock Regional School District, nor Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Kristen Behnke responded to requests for comment.

School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said level state funding means the $65.1 million school spending plan approved late June will move ahead. The budget called for 26 staff reductions that, officials said, were to be achieved through attrition and retirements.

"We have achieved the goal of stabilizing both local aid and Chapter 70 by committing to at least level funding," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.

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State officials also agreed to level spending on unrestricted municipal aid, meaning the city will receive about $9.2 million, or just about $1.4 million more than expected, Kerwood said. Assured education and government aid will hold steady, Tyer said her administration will not need revise its nearly $170 million annual budget.

"It is a great relief to know that those are the amounts that we're going to be getting," Tyer said. "Because we know we have a very stable situation within our municipal operating budget."

Baker signed a $16.53 billion interim budget Tuesday that will keep state government operating through at least the end of October.

But, despite commitments from the state, Kerwood said he can't make a full and final determination of what Pittsfield's state aid will look like until he receives a "cherry sheet" outlining the state's best estimates.

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


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