Pittsfield Schools Close to Final Budget Agreement

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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Deputy Superintendent of Business and Finance Kristen Behnke, right, anticipated state grants should bring the budget down to the mayor's target.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A revised School Department budget proposed for next fiscal year received favorable response from the School Committee following a public hearing on Wednesday night.
The proposed budget for fiscal 2015 is $57,334,399, an increase of approximately a million dollars over this year's school budget, of which $56.5 million must appropriated by the City Council. The remaining $710,000 comes from School Department revolving accounts.
About two-thirds of this budget, or roughly $40 million, will come from state coffers, with a majority of the remainder derived from local taxes.
School officials say keeping the increase to $1 million is less than ideal, but should maintain a level services budget and avoid cuts to core educational programming.
While the $57.3 million budget amounts to a 1.78 percent increase over last year, it includes a $1.3 million increase in already negotiated step raises for about 1,100 employees, plus another $200,000 in necessary costs from unfunded mandates associated with new testing requirements.
The school administration had initially put forth a budget proposal seeking a $2 million increase, but Mayor Daniel Bianchi asked them to bring that down to $1 million. By last week, the School Department had figured out how to get within $50,000 of that figure, and with new information about slight increases in state and federal grant amounts this year, had been able to arrive at the final proposal this week.
"These numbers are projections, anticipations," said Deputy Superintendent of Business and Finance Kristen Behnke of the grant increases, adding that exact funding amounts in some cases will not be known until this summer.
"It's a difficult thing to project, and I might come back to you in a few months and say 'it didn't work out as well as we thought," Behnke told the committee. "But this is our best information to date, and it's what I'm recommending we move forward with."
"We started out with a huge wish list," said Chairwoman Katherine Yon, who commended the School Department and administration for working to find a way to arrive at an agreed-upon compromise.
"Is this a dream budget, with new pre-Ks, and new health and wellness coordinator, and more school adjustment councilors? No, it's not," said Yon. "I think it's a very responsible budget."
The committee will take a final budget vote on April 30, in order to comply with more stringent guidelines in the city's new charter requiring submission of the proposed school budget to the City Council by May 1.

Tags: fiscal 2015,   school budget,   

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