With state funding boost, Pittsfield school chief looks to make $3.5M in additions

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PITTSFIELD — The state is poised to give the city more in school reimbursements than ever before, and School Superintendent Jason McCandless said there's only one place that money belongs.

He expects the state to increase Pittsfield's allotment by $3.7 million for the coming fiscal year.

"For the first time in my six years, we're able to put money into things — into programs, into people," he told members of the School Committee on Wednesday.

Two years ago, McCandless was forced to eliminate dozens of positions amid a tightening city budget. Now, the state is undergoing a public school funding review process that is ushering in new support for students in the commonwealth.

Cuts during previous years came out of necessity, McCandless said. But the governor's increase reflects an opportunity to do better by the city's young people, he said.

"This is the budget we need," he said. "This is the budget our kids need."

To mirror the influx, McCandless is proposing more additions than cuts, amounting to a proposed increase of about $3.45 million over the current year's budget for city schools. For the cuts in his proposed budget, McCandless said he plans on shifting those employees into new positions that he hopes to add.

The budget reaches for a better education for some of the district's struggling students, particularly those in special education courses.

"We find this to be among the most challenging of our work," he said.

While he's proud of the work the district has done in opening the doors to Advanced Placement courses to more students, it's not enough. Gov. Charlie Baker is setting aside this money in acknowledgment that "our needs are urgent," McCandless said.

"This budget represents a fight for equity, for fairness and for justice," he said.

McCandless is proposing a $276,000 increase that would allow the district to keep two school nurses at Taconic High School and Conte Community School, as well as one assistant principal each for teaching and learning at Herberg and Reid Middle schools. All four of these positions were previously covered under grants and should continue, he said.

School Committee Chairwoman Kathy Yon praised McCandless for a thoughtful budget that strives to close the kinds of disparities that exist in American society.

"The one place we absolutely cannot have that is in public education," she said.The additions include:

- 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. 

- 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. 

- 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. 

- Four paraprofessionals to the district's elementary schools. School Superintendent Jason McCandless said the addition would relieve teachers of lunch and recess monitoring duties, giving them time in the day for collaborative planning.

- 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. 

- Two teachers for English language learners. 

- Two certified nursing assistants to help the district's busiest school nurses. 

- Two paraprofessionals to staff intervention centers at Herberg and Reid Middle schools. 

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

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

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

- 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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