Superintendent Jason McCandless outlines his plan on Tuesday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City Council approved a spending plan for the nearly $1.3 million Chapter 70 increase that will improve the district's alternative school and fill staffing gaps.
City Council unanimously approved a spending plan layout Tuesday that will provide the school district with a $1,285,600 shot in the arm — pumping resources in both the elementary and middle schools.
"We know that this money was directly and specifically aimed at communities that need it the most," Superintendent Jason McCandless said. "I can assure you ... many of our neighbors did not see this increase because they do not face the same challenges that we do in Pittsfield."
Earlier this year the City Council approved a budget based on a $3.7 million increase in the state's Chapter 70 school aid. However, the final version of the state budget upped this increase to $5 million.
McCandless outlined the same spending plan the School Committee approved Monday night. He noted that the fiscal 2019 Chapter 70 amount was $42,665,381 and the fiscal 2020 amount was $47,686,062.
But with this unexpected increase, the district is now looking at $5,020,661 in chapter 70.
The plan focuses on the elementary and middle schools as well as the Education Opportunities for Students alternative school — which will be moved to Eagle Street.
All in all a $1,012,000 chunk of this increase will go towards 19 new hires that will add grade levels in the elementary schools, provide direct support to students and teachers, and help administer the alternative school programming.
Another $75,000 will be used to bring in an autism consultant to help improve the district's programming and another $273,600 will go to the city to cover health insurance costs associated with the added positions.
The council first asked McCandless if he thought this funding bump was a permanent fixture and McCandless responded that he was confident that this increase represents a new baseline.
He said he would not propose hiring anybody if he did not think the funding would be consistent. He said if this was the case the district would likely have to let these new hires go the following year if this funding did not return.
McCandless did warn that if the city did not put these extra funds toward education with the spirit of the increase, he did not think the state would support this new Chapter 70 trajectory in the coming years.
"If we use this money correctly this year when it is coming the message this telegraphs to the state is we mean business," he said. "We are putting this money where they intended us to put this money ... and this is a down payment."
And the council did not propose using this increase for anything else but education. Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said the city has to continue to support education.
"Part of the deal we have to do our part and that has been said many times," he said. "I think it is worth repeating. New influxes of dollars for the schools should not be used for other parts of the budget."
Although the council was in support of the plan, it did have questions specifically around the EOS school. While Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo came right out in support of the move, Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon had questions about it and asked if separating high needs students from the larger student body was a best practice.
McCandless said it is a best practice contrary to that of the 1970s when high-needs students were kept in the classroom. He said by separating these students, it gives them the right environment to thrive as well as provide specific support and resources.
"It is a different place that serves a very different set of needs," he said. "What often happens there are certain disabilities and certain patterns of behavior that in a setting with 20 other people that become your community you don't have the audience that you have in the middle school with 600 other students."
Councilor at Large Earl Persip asked how these new positions and additions, specifically at the EOS, will help the larger student body.
McCandless said it comes down to time and not only will these at-risk students get the attention they need but it will free up administrators, resources and councilors who are often tied up with the students who need the most help.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell asked if the district looked at using a city-owned building for the alternative school instead of renting and McCandless said they are open to it but for the time being it makes more sense to lease.
Many of the prospective buildings need a lot of costly work, he said, and there is also a bonus to having a landlord. If something goes wrong, school funds do not need to be tapped to address it.
Persip asked if the district would be able to make these hires before the opening of school in early September and McCandless said they may not fill all of the positions on time but will do what they can.
"We are going to do what we have done all summer we are going to try like heck and we will have these positions posted tomorrow," he said. "We will put our shoulder down and push hard."
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
Berkshires Beat: Berkshire Equestrian Center to Host Horse Show Benefiting Berkshire Humane Society
Benefit horse show
After 25 years of hosting the Berkshire Humane Society Horse Show, Overmeade Farm has passed the reins to the Berkshire Equestrian Center in Richmond. Through the support of the Hart Family and Overmeade Farm, the horse show has raised more than $250,000 during the lifetime of the event. Berkshire Humane Society is excited to begin a new partnership with Berkshire Equestrian Center.
This event is recognized by the Western New England Professional Horseman's Association. Riders participate in hunter and equitation classes, both on the flat and over fences. The show offers riders of all ages and skills an opportunity to compete while helping raise critical funds that support the programs and services of Berkshire Humane Society. BHS has provided care to thousands of homeless animals over the past 27 years, and the horse show is one event that makes this lifesaving work possible.
Divisions to be held include: Short/Long Stirrup, Baby Green Hunter, Low/Adult Hunter, Novice Hunter, Pre-Children’s/Adult Equitation, Junior/Amateur Hunter, Children’s Equitation, Pony Hunter, Children’s Hunter Horse, Modified Junior Equitation, Junior Equitation, Adult Equitation, among others.
"We are so excited that the horse show has returned," said John Perreault, executive director for BHS. "This event is a great way for people of all ages to combine their love of horses and their compassion for all companion animals. We cannot thank Overmeade Farm and Berkshire Equestrian Center enough for their support. The Hart Family has made this event what it is today, and we’re thankful that Sarah Hogue at Berkshire Equestrian Center wants to continue this summer tradition that celebrates horses and helps homeless pets."
City Council President Peter Marchetti feels he's brought "professional leadership" to the city and he wants to continue doing so.
Marchetti is again seeking re-election to the council - it'll be his ninth campaign for council and 10th for elected office - in the last two decades. He's had what... click for more
At a ward meeting, Helen Moon was elated to see a young woman in her 20s take a seat in the audience.
At ward meetings and at the polls, it is often the same group of people making their voices heard. But this woman wasn't someone Moon had heard much from in the past so it made her happy to see... click for more
The program is intended to provide coaching and mentorship to help young people take the first step in their careers. It has been ongoing in Pittsfield for 15 years, and for the last six Guardian Life Insurance has contributed.
click for more
The cracked and worn steps to City Hall stood between two mayoral candidates Tuesday night.
Councilor At Large and mayoral candidate Melissa Mazzeo and Mayor Linda Tyer sparred during the City Council meeting over the lack of repairs to those steps. In 2015, a storm led to significant flooding... click for more
At one point, Ashton Applewhite's biggest fear was that she'd end up "drooling in an institution" when she got old.
She was worried about memory loss. She didn't want to live a depressed life. Getting old was not something she wanted to even think about. But something changed when she embarked... click for more