The City Council approved an appropriation of $256,000 to fund a newly negotiated contract with the teachers union.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council voted 9-2 on Tuesday night to appropriate $256,389 from its free cash to the 2013 school department budget to pay for salary increases negotiated in a recent settlement agreement with its largest teachers union.
The additional allocation comes as the result of increases stipulated in a new contract agreement between the public school systems and the United Educators of Pittsfield.
"It is what I consider to be a very good contract, with great improvements in it," said Mayor Daniel Bianchi.
Councilor Barry Clairmont, who along with Councilor Christine Yon, opposed making the appropriation at this time, said the school department should try to move its budget lines around to find the approximately quarter-million dollars needed to cover the negotiated raises.
"I'm not against funding this if they really need the money, but I'm not convinced that they do," said Clairmont, pointing out that returns of excess funds to the free cash fund have amounted to only about $13,000 over the past three years, whereas the other city departments had returned a combined amount of around $1.9 million in unused funds over the same period.
"Realistically, to come up with $256,000, we would have to take a look at personnel," said Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Kristin Behnke, "and that would be the last thing that I would want to do."
Behnke noted that in some past years, budgets had been written to include contingency funds for expected union negotiations in advance, but that was not included in this year's lean school department budget.
"I don't think we need to put any more pressure on a system that's already been asked to toe the line," said Bianchi, referring back to a school budget process last spring that was frequently referred to by School Committee members as "painful" or "agonizing."
School Committee member Terry Kinnas also opposed the appropriation, urging the council to vote against it during the meeting's open microphone period.
"A contract was negotiated which the School Department cannot afford. They're borrowing for operational expenses," said Kinnas. "Anyone in business knows that's a definite no-no."
"I would have put it in the budget — my personal preference — at the beginning of the year, it would have been cleaner," said Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, but added that given the option of taking it from free cash as opposed to a contingency fund, "I completely agree with the mayor's approach on this."
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