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Pittsfield Planning Graduations; School Committee OKs $68M Budget

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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The School Committee approves the fiscal 2022 education budget.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The pandemic forced the city's two high schools to hold virtual graduations last year.
Not so for the class of 2021.
With the state set to relax COVID-19 restrictions in May, this year's class will get the traditional ceremonial send off albeit with some modifications.
Superintendent Joseph Curtis on Wednesday told the School Committee that the district plans to hold its graduation ceremonies outdoors without capacity limits and with masking requirements.  
Both high school ceremonies are set for Sunday, June 6. Taconic will be at 11 a.m. and PHS at 4 p.m. Both ceremonies will be held at the schools and will continue "rain or shine," Curtis said. PHS has normally been held at Tanglewood but the music venue reportedly will not host any graduations this year.
"We're not yet projecting out the details of these events, just the dates and times because we'll certainly work with our city officials to ensure the events as they're planned are supported or if more adjustments need to be made," Curtis added.
The School Committee on Wednesday approved a fiscal 2022 school budget of  $67,931,700.
The spending plan was amended to include a $50,000 salary for the hire of an officer of diversity, equity, and inclusion as proposed by Mayor Linda Tyer.
Committee member William Cameron motioned to further amend the budget to re-allocate up to $160,000 within the line items from administrative costs, instruction costs, operations, and maintenance, or other funding sources to fund the Parent-Child Home Program, which is an early literacy/school readiness organization.
This budget consists of a $67,311,700 city appropriation and $620,000 of tuition revenue.
Committee member Mark Brazeau brought to light the "crucial need" for additional support staff — specifically school adjustment counselors — in the district. In a presentation, he proposed that the district add 20 school adjustment counselors with federal and state aid, increasing the current number from 15 to 35.
Brazeau estimated a $79,000 salary for each adjustment counselor position.
"According to American School Counselor Association, there should be a ratio of 250 students per counselor, this ratio is pre-COVID numbers. We should be leveraging new federal funding to further invest state funding to support student mental health to meet the challenges of pandemic more than we have proposed," he said. "Now that most of our students are returned to full in-person learning, they should be met with the increased adult presence to address their mental and emotional needs, school leaders must prioritize mental health as students are experiencing varying levels of trauma.
"For many students, more time at home during a pandemic, could mean increased exposure to trauma, shelter-in-place orders have led to a dramatic increase in rates of domestic violence, children process many circumstances by the reactions of their parents, responses to the virus and or economic hardships caused by rising unemployment can lead children to exhibit behaviors, potentially toxic stress."
Brazeau said research supports the value of lowering the student-to-counselor ratio to meet  students' social-emotional needs and exhibit positive effects with English language learners, rural and urban students, low-income students, and children showing aggressive behaviors or actions associated with depression.
"Most students are feeling lonely, sad, worried, and frustrated, but they're not feeling happy, excited, or hopeful," he added. "Feeling hopeless can lead to increased depression and suicidal indications, ideations and attempts."
Committee member Alison McGee echoed Brazeau's sentiments.
"I've said it before, as we've had discussions about COVID reopenings I think we're going to have a lot of students coming in with lagging skills and a number of areas," she said. "And some of that socialization of that might be the adoption of other negative behaviors because of the amount of unsupervised time and then just learning how to take different learning settings than they were used to before."
Tyer thanked Brazeau for his presentation and added that this was the first time she has seen a committee member present to their colleagues. She queried him on the projected timeline for these changes, emphasizing the importance of the School Committee approving the budget at this meeting.
Brazeau said he would love for this to happen now, but is realistically looking at the fall for these additional positions to be added. The committee agreed that this is an important area to address but needs logistical work such as funding sources and how the adjustment counselors will be dispersed.
This topic will be on the agenda for the next School Committee meeting.
Cameron questioned the need for a vice principal of teaching and learning dedicated solely to Career Technical Education standard programs.
"What is the argument for getting this position?" he asked. "I know that there was a back and forth, but I think it would be valuable this is another administrative position. We're always told that we're top heavy with administrators and that we're not spending the money on students, apparently, nobody's supposed to supervise what's going on in the buildings."
Assistant Superintendent of Career and Technical Education Tammy Gage explained that this position would provide the support needed to align the curriculum to the newly written CTE frameworks.
"The support is needed by our new staff, or existing staff to ensure that they are retained and able to grow in their positions in practice, and better support for our students with their post-secondary goals with clearly written and robust, robust articulation agreements to make a more successful transition beyond high school," she said.
Gage added that over decades, CTE enrollment has waned and the programs have become "severely under-resourced" staffing-wise, consumable products-wise, and partner-wise, which resulted in programming that was not admired by the city.
"We really need responsible staffing levels," she added. "As you know, we have six hard shops with incredible safety regulation around them, and having more adults to support our teachers and support our students, I think, is the responsible thing to do."
Tyer spoke in support of this position, citing the unfair perceptions of the district's CTE programs.
"I just want to say that I am in full support of this position that's been proposed because it is unfair to shortchange the teachers in our CTE program and the students, simply the perception that the CTE programs aren't as rigorous as our academic program is an unfair characterization and they absolutely deserve to have as much support for their teaching and learning success," she said.

Tags: fiscal 2022,   school budget,   

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Greylock and Credit Union of the Berkshires Agree to Merger

PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Greylock Federal Credit Union and Credit Union of the Berkshires (CUB), both of Pittsfield, have reached a definitive merger agreement subject to the approval of the CUB membership and regulatory agencies.
"We are pleased that Greylock and Credit Union of the Berkshires have reached this merger agreement," said Greylock President and CEO John L. Bissell. "We know that the credit union difference remains strong in Berkshire County. We look forward to completing the merger and
combining the resources of CUB and Greylock to help the community thrive."
With final approval of the merger, Greylock will assume CUB's nearly $23 million in assets.
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