PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There's a sense of urgency to conduct the districtwide master plan for the Pittsfield Public Schools.
Mayor Linda Tyer told the rest of the School Committee on Wednesday that she recently toured some of the schools and felt that the district needs to begin the master planning process sooner than later.
"I am concerned about the disparity of our school facilities and school buildings as it relates to neighborhoods versus other neighborhoods," she said. "I really hope that the committee can move forward with the school master planning process ... I enjoy spending time in the schools but it reminds me that we have some work to do."
The committee plan to undergo a master planning process to not only survey the condition of the buildings but also the best configuration of the district. This could mean closing schools.
School Committee member William Cameron agreed with Tyer and said some of the schools are just outdated for modern educational needs.
"We have schools that were opened to embody an educational approach that did not prove to be effective," he said. "These schools are in need of repair but we also have the physical facilities that were designed to serve 12,000 students and we don't have that anymore."
Current enrollment is about 5,261 students in kindergarten through Grade 12.
The district operates a dozen schools: Pittsfield High School (1931, renovated in 1974), and the new $120 million Taconic High School; John T. Reid Middle School (1953, renovated in 2000) and Theodore Herberg Middle School (1953, renovated 1999); and Allendale Elementary (1951, renovated 1999), Robert T. Capeless Elementary (1951, renovated 2001), Silvio O. Conte Community (1974), John C. Crosby Elementary (1962), Egremont Elementary School (1951, renovated 1998), Morningside Community (1975),
Schools Superintendent Jason McCandless said a request for proposals are currently being developed to solicit the interests of a third-party firm. He agreed that a survey of the facilities is important but equally important is a firm that can help the district realign.
"That is quick and dirty it is like walking around with a measuring wheel," he said. "The real challenge is wrapping their heads around how many kids we have now, many we will have 20 years out, and what is really the best way to serve them."
He said almost every school district in Berkshire County is facing declining population and a master plan may suggest closing schools.
"Where is that critical mass where a school no longer needs to operate as a school because there is no longer enough children," he asked rhetorically.
The conversation switched to projected enrollment and school choice. McCandless was asked by committee member Alison McGee if students often change schools within the district.
He said they do and there is an appeal process in which families meet with administration to inquire about switching schools.
McCandless came back to consolidation and said he thought eight elementary schools were too many for a district Pittsfield's size.
"Speaking as a parent, as a leader here, and a community servant, four elementary schools or six some number out there in space would make our schools look less segregated in some instances by income level," he said. "I could see that possibly addressing a host of issues."
He responded to McGee and did say he could provide her with this information and show her where students are leaving and where they are going in the district.
Committee member Danial Elias did asked that the committee recognize that even with the savings of closing a school there will be consequences. He said it is a real possibility that the district could lose students to school choice by closing a school.
"Could the savings just wash out?" he asked.
McCandless agreed and said they will have to consider this.
"These schools carry a very special place in the hearts of those neighborhoods and the potential of losing 11 more kids or 150 more kids if we were to take some drastic action is very real," he said.
In other business, McCandless handed out copies of the cherry sheets based on the governor's budget that show the district would be receiving an additional $2.9 million in Chapter 70 education funding.
"We are looking at an increase ... understand that within the context just to open up next year the way we operate now is between a $1.4 [million] and $1.5 million increase," he said. "So we have $1 million plus to be working with for what is new and what is additional."
Chairwoman Christine Yon added that this number could increase.
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