Pittsfield schools to rehire some staff

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PITTSFIELD -- Approximately 40 to 60 Pittsfield Public Schools educators will soon have their "pink slips" rescinded, said the superintendent Wednesday when he emphasized the need to "keep as many people as we can humanly keep" as the state moves toward a possible reopening of in-person school this fall.

"We will begin strategically letting individuals know that we're rescinding those non-renewals, and that their jobs are back and we look forward to having them with us," Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said during a remote school board meeting.

Next week, the district will begin rescinding upwards of 40 to 60 of the non-renewal notices that went out to educators, he said after the Zoom meeting. They were among the approximately 140 reduction in force and non-renewal notices that had been sent to teachers, paraprofessionals other staff by mid-June, as leaders bracing for the pandemic's economic fallout prepared for the possibility of multi-million dollar dollar budget cuts if state education aid known as Chapter 70 funding fell dramatically.

While McCandless told the school board he doesn't think anyone is prepared to say publicly that the state won't be cutting funding for districts this year, he said after the meeting that "we're pretty confident we're not going to see reductions from the state of several million dollars."

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"I think we have enough information triangulated by what our elected officials say, what the governor says, that we're not anticipating that worst-case scenario," he said.

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Massachusetts school districts anxiously wait for news of their approximate aid allocation, information that Gov. Charlie Baker said in late June would likely not be known for another month. Meanwhile, state education officials have told districts to develop and submit plans for three scenarios for the fall, the first two being continuing to teach all students remotely, and a "hybrid" model where some students learn remotely while others report to school.

The state is prioritizing a third scenario -- the full return to in-person schooling for all students. School committee members discussed the logistical challenges of getting students and staff back into classrooms safely. McCandless said the district could accommodate a return of the full student body if the state sticks with its requirement that desks are arranged at least three feet apart. Ideally, the state wants desks spaced six feet apart, but McCandless said the district simply doesn't have room in most classrooms to do that.

Spacing between desks is just one on a long list of regulations school leaders are strategizing over before school begins, in one form or another, come fall.

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With the herculean task of educating students during a continuing pandemic ahead, McCandless said it has become clear the district sent out more force reduction notices than it can afford let stand if it wants to reopen schools. The wave of notices were sent to prepare in case Chapter 70 funding declines sharply, he has said, so the district could avoid a situation where it was bound to contracts with employees it ultimately didn't have enough funding to pay.

McCandless noted he has "great faith" elected officials will level-fund, or get as close to level-funding Chapter 70 aid as possible, especially for districts like Pittsfield where state funding last year accounted for more than two-thirds of the budget. That would open the door pulling back more reduction notices, said McCandless, who also pointed to Mayor Linda Tyer's public commitment to allocating some amount of additional funding from city coffers to the district if state aid falls.

"Going through this process of seeing how we're going to reopen and operate next year, we will be working hard to keep as many people as we can humanly keep," he said of district rosters.


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