PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee last week approved memoranda of agreement with three of four bargaining units.
After an executive session, the committee returned to regular session to unanimously endorse new agreements with the cafeteria, paraprofessionals and educational secretary units.
A fourth, with the bus drivers and attendants, was tabled as committee member Sarah Hathaway commented that "we look forward to approving it when the language is tinkered with a just little bit."
The committee also approved raises for substitute paraprofessionals and educational secretaries of about $10 a day, depending on category, and raising the food service workers to the state's minimum wage of $14.25 an hour, to become $15 when the minimum wage goes up on Jan. 1, 2023.
Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said the rates for long-term substitutes and nurses had been raised in 2021 during COVID-19. Those are not being raised this year.
"They are definitely the highest in the county and certainly some of the higher in the state," she said. "We found it was helpful in gaining some additional substitutes. We could use more."
The shorter-term substitute rates are being hiked in light of changes in the minimum wage and the recent recent contract for paraprofessionals. The custodial rates are covered by contract.
City Councilor Karen Kalinowsky urged the committee to increase custodial pay, saying the unit has been without a contract for 18 months.
She argued that during the pandemic custodians worked the frontlines keeping the school clean and sanitized in preparation for reopening and keeping them open at the risk of themselves and their families.
"I worked 13 years in the school. I know how hard these people work, and I know how underpaid they are. And I'm quite aware that the school departments got quite a few million from the state above and beyond what they used to," the retired school resource officer said in a followup interview.
"And they keep giving raises and keep promoting lots of administrators and I believe that we need to pay the lowest paid people with our living wage."
The committee also discussed the diversity, equity, and inclusion plan that was put together by a diverse task force.
After reviewing the report from Schoolworks, the Equity Task Force identified the following four priorities to focus their work on:
All students are provided with ample opportunities to think critically about bias, power, and privilege, consider diverse perspectives, and develop leadership skills.
The district has clear and comprehensive systems for employee recruitment, retention, and promotion that value and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Leadership and staff are engaged in multiple learning opportunities focused on culturally responsive pedagogy.
All students have access to high-quality learning opportunities in school activities, after-school activities, and extracurricular activities.
The hope is to engage the task force three to four times during the school year to have accountability, receive feedback on the perceived progress the district has made, and to make adjustments to year 2 and 3 priorities.
"These also would be addressed in our strategic plan that will begin working on this year and should be finished by the end of the school year," Curtis said.
There will be another opportunity to discuss the district improvement plan presentation in the future.
Committee member Vicky Smith said she shared the plan with a "person of color" at Williams College for input and "the key takeaway was, how do you know that it's working, that you're making progress," she asked.
A suggestion at the last meeting when Smith asked what the key takeaways from the experience, was the hope that there would be more people of color employed in our district and that they stay, and that could be a "scorecard baseline"
The school district has seen a change in statistics, said Curtis, from 98 percent white staffing five or six years ago to 92 percent when he came on as interim superintendent. It has continued to become more diverse since.
The improvement of hiring a diverse staff is one of the outcomes the district hopes to see from this response plan as it evolves over the years and the implementation becomes stronger, he said.
"There are a number of, just to speak to that topic, Human Resource goals, you'll see in this plan that have to be implemented over a course of time," Curtis said.
"One of them being ensuring that affinity groups are available to all of our employees. So if there is that different treatment that they that can be expressed and then addressed in a way that's supportive."
The first year of the plan works on the foundational work such as "bringing a level of understanding and knowledge to our leadership on diversity, equity inclusion, providing them with the support and training," he said. "So you'll see in this plan that the year one is very foundational, and that was deliberate, because without the right foundational supports and structures, as we've seen in so many ways, and over time, this the entire structure crumbles."
The district also has the hiring statistics on the district's website so people can see the demographics for applicants who applied and who were hired.
In other news:
• Vice Chair Daniel Elias attended an Egremont Elementary School School Council meeting and updated the committee on what was happening at the school.
A number of positions have been filled, including a special education paraprofessional that it did not have last year, he said, and that this year all specialists have a room. They still have one paraprofessional position that needs to be filled.
According to Elias, the council has a consideration for a vice principal come budget time.
The school council also met with Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath regarding the playground renovation.
"We will break ground in mid July. The playground is currently 20 years old. Estimated cost of $81,000," Elias said.
The American Rescue Plan Act is going to fund half of the project. Berkshire Bank donated $5,000 and the Parent-Teacher Organization is going to cover $35,000.
Haddad Subaru in Pittsfield adopted classrooms at Egremont, providing six teachers $500 each.
• Superintendent Joseph Curtis announced that the School Building Needs Commission had its first meeting on Sept. 20.
During that meeting, it reviewed the restructuring request for quotation that has gone out and then discussed the purpose and possible timeline to submit a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The commission has a lot ahead of them because the findings from the restructuring study could require a policy change, Curtis said.
The committee also approved the following policies after a second reading:
Sexual Harassment Policy for Sexual Harassment Against Students,
Sexual Harassment Policy for Sexual Harassment Against Employees, and
Non-Discrimination Policy Including Harassment and Retaliation,