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The School Committee approves the plan Monday night.

Pittsfield School Committee Accepts Increased Chapter 70 Spending Plan

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee set a spending plan for an extra $1.3 million increase in state funding that it hadn't anticipated Monday night.
The plan is eyed to benefit the middle and elementary schools as well as alternative programs.
The School Committee held a special meeting Monday to approve the state funding increase that will go before the City Council on Tuesday night. 
"We tend to ... base our numbers on not the rosiest scenarios but the most likely scenarios," Superintendent Jason McCandless said. "This is one of the few times in my career I have seen, in terms of finances, the rosiest scenario play out."
Originally the City Council approved a budget based on a $3.7 million increase in the state's Chapter 70 school aid. But, the final version of the state budget upped that to $5 million -- giving the city $1,285,600 to budget. State officials have stressed that the additional aid is intended to go for the schools.
McCandless said the district's plan is to use some of the funds to create a new space for the middle school Education Opportunities for Students Tier Ill program and move it from Herberg to Eagle Street, where the district rents space.
"It has been a challenging program to house while we are trying to educate 640 other students," McCandless said. "We really wanted to give these kids a space of their own."
The change would also include a new director/principal, teachers, counselors, and specialists.
He said this would increase the capacity of the program allowing more students to benefit from the alternative education program focused on high needs students. The program will be able to take 60 students now.
The funding will also address interventionists at Stearns and Capeless Elementary Schools. This includes a mathematics interventionist and six common planning instructional support teachers.
"In terms of high needs these schools are well over 50 percent," he said. "The scores indicate that they need some very specific skilled people ... there are groups of kids that just need more time."
McCandless said there is also a plan to add one grade level section to Egremont at Grade 4 and one at Crosby at Grade 3 to respond to increasing enrollments.
He said they would like to place employees  at the middle schools to run the code and conduct student support centers.
"These ultimately will replace the in-school suspension centers," he said. "We want students to understand what they did, how they were doing it, and how they are going to make it right and how they are going to get back into the classroom."
In total, the $1,012,000 will be used to fund these 19 positions. None have been filled yet.
McCandless concluded that $75,000 of the amount will be used to bring in an autism consultant to build more specific and targeted autism programming across all grades. He said this will help the district avoid costly out-of-district placements.
"Instead of going to school at a distance or in another town we would like to bring in this consultant to help us ramp up our own programs," he said.
Additionally another $273,600 will go to the city to cover health insurance costs associated with the added positions.
The School Committee supported the proposed funding and school committee member Cynthia Taylor said all though the district could always use more, this money will right many concerns the original budget did not address.
"I 100 percent support this and it is consistent with our long and short term goals," she said. "It has been long needed and deeply needed."
A letter was also read from the mayor, who could not attend the meeting, asking the committee to support the funding rollout.
The City Council will also have to accept this spending plan Tuesday night. 

Tags: chapter 70,   pittsfield schools,   school budget,   

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BCC Graduates Recognized in Remote Commencement

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Any other year, the graduates of Berkshire Community College and their friends and families would be filling The Shed at Tanglewood in Lenox.

But instead of taking the stage, speakers stood alone in front of a backdrop. And instead of being handed their certificates and diplomas, the more than 200 graduates' names were read as their pictures were shown. 
What didn't change was the ceremony's broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television, allowing at least a virtual coming together of the BCC community to mark their significant accomplishments.
President Ellen Kennedy reminded those watching how commencement celebrates not just the achievements but the persistence of the graduates in often overcoming life challenges to walk across the Tanglewod stage.   
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