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Pittsfield Schools Anticipate New Layoffs

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Superintendent Jason McCandless says more layoffs may be needed depending on when students can return to school.
McCandless told the School Committee in his report Wednesday that without students in the actual buildings, there may be a need to lay off a sizeable amount of the cafeteria staff.
"We are not certain that the money would work out in favor on the positive side of the ledger even with the staff reduced by over two-thirds," McCandless said.
Pittsfield Public Schools opted to begin the school year entirely remotely. The plan is to phase students into a hybrid education model later in the fall if heath data allows.
McCandless said the food service program is outside of the budget and is self-sustaining. Without teachers and students eating in school, funds are limited. 
"Their entire operation exists outside of our budget," he said. "It is the lone piece of what we do that is self-sustaining."
He said there are about 70 people employed in the food service program. This may have to be knocked down to around 20. 
The committee was concerned about the duration of the layoffs and did not want employees to lose benefits.
McCandless shared this concern and said the district is working out some creative solutions. He said there is a need for bus monitors, janitors, and even bus drivers and that cafeteria employees could fill in where needed in the interim.  
The problem will be dramatically lessened, he said, as soon some students return to school.
"Just getting the special populations back in the buildings we think we can cut that number in half," he said. "Some of this is just a matter of timing, and when we can expect to bring kids back in by the hundreds."
Once they fully enter the hybrid model the problem goes away. He said they may even have to hire more food service workers at that point.
Otherwise, McCandless said all the paraprofessionals that were laid off during the unsure budget process are either back or were offered their position back. 
"It is very good news that we were able to pull back everybody that was laid off," he said. "We said that we were very hopeful that we could do that, and we were able to do that. We still have positions to fill." 
The school district was forced to hand out more than 100 reduction-in-force notices an anticipation of a worst case scenario in state aid allocation during the outset of the pandemic.
In other business, McCandless spoke to the upcoming school year and noted that families have been notified that, per a state requirement, all students must receive a flu shot if they wish to return to school.
"The state's stance is clear. If you don't have a flu shot and you do not have a religious or medical exemption you may not come to school," he said.
Assistant Superintendent for Business & Finance Kristen Behnke then went over some COVID-19 expenses and said it is becoming increasingly difficult to order personal protective equipment and other needed items.
"We are adding items every day as we are finding new needs or finding out there is a better way to do things," she said.
For example, she said gloves that used to cost $5 a box are now closer to $20 and sometimes orders are late to arrive if they come in at all.
She said luckily many of these purchases can be reimbursed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
She did note the $1.291 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding the district has and said she fully expects this to be gone by the end of the year. 
Mayor Linda Tyer asked about some of the items on the purchase list such as bike racks and fireproof cabinets.
Behnke said the state has asked schools to encourage students to ride their bikes to school if they can to lessen the burden on buses. Buses can not be filled to capacity in order to meet social distancing requirements.
As for the cabinets, Behnke said hand sanitizer must be stored in these fireproof cabinets to meet fire code.
She also spoke to a tent that will be used for outdoor testing and new computer software that will help with remote learning.

Tags: pittsfield schools,   school reopening,   

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