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Pittsfield School Committee Sees Breakdown of FY23 Expenditures

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield Public Schools spent a total of $135.8 million on education in fiscal year 2023. 

While the majority is attributed to the budget approved by the School Committee, this also includes a healthy amount of state aid and funds from other city departments.

On Wednesday, the committee received a presentation on education spending outside of the district budget and an update on the governor's proposed budget for fiscal 2025.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Kristen Behnke said the administration wants to make sure that the committee and public are aware that there is a lot of education spending that is not confined to the school operating budget.

"As part of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act, school districts in Massachusetts are required to report annually to [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] on something called the financial end-of-year report," she said.

"In Pittsfield, we have expenditures on three main sources: there's the School Committee budget that you approve each year, there's city of Pittsfield departmental budgets that we're going to talk more about as part of this presentation, and then there's our federal grants, state grants and revolving funds which over the last few years has grown significantly in part because of the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds."

Some $22.7 million (17 percent) of the expenditures were from federal and state grants and revolving funds, $40.8 million (30 percent) was from city departmental expenditures, and $72.3 million (53 percent) was expended from the School Committee budget in FY23.

Some of the largest buckets of spending include:

  • insurance for current employees: $13.1M
  • school choice and charter tuition costs: $7.5M
  • employer retirement contributions to Pittsfield Retirement Board: $5.4M
  • insurance for retired school department employees: $4.5M
  • maintenance of school buildings and grounds: $1.8M
  • long term debt n school construction: $1.7M
  • student resource officers:  $171,000

The $1.8 million spent on the schools' buildings and grounds maintenance includes work from the Building Maintenance Department and the Parks Department's work on athletic fields and parking lots.

These numbers come from the Net School Spending Agreement

"Any municipal district is required to have a Net School Spending Agreement. They're actually approved by the commissioner of education," Behnke said.

"Ours was from 2004. We looked at numbers again in about 2016. When we looked at the agreement again, we decided not to make any changes to the language of the agreement but we did make some changes to how some of the numbers were calculated and what was included as part of the overall agreement at that time."

Of the Building Maintenance Department's one million dollar salary budget for FY24, more than $750,000, or 70 percent, is attributed to education. For the Parks Department, the more than $570,000 salary budget has nearly $230,000 attributed to education, or 40 percent.

Behnke explained that this also includes plowing of the parking lots in the wintertime.

Under the governor's budget, Pittsfield's state aid will increase by nearly $650,000 in FY25. In FY24, the city received $6.5 million more in aid, for a total of about $60 million.

Revised information showed that the city dipped down into a Group 10 low-income category, which results in dramatically less Chapter 70 funding, which is a hundreds of dollar difference per student.

Behnke reported that Pittsfield is right on the cusp, as the cutoff for Group 11 is 70 percent and the city is 69.96 percent. The administration received low-income student information from the state and is looking at it compared to the district's information to make sure that no students were missed in the count.

"It is not going to take a lot of students," she said. "If we find a handful of students it's possible that we can we can go back into group 11 which would give us approximately another $2 million."

Tags: Pittsfield Public Schools,   school budget,   

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Pittsfield ConCom OKs Zebra Mussel Treatment

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Conservation Commission has OKed a zebra mussel pesticide treatment in Onota Lake if the invasive species are confirmed.

On Thursday, the panel approved a notice of intent application for the use of EarthTec QZ within a specified treatment area of the lake.  

"We're not entirely 100 percent sure that there is an infestation of zebra mussels at Onota Lake. Last September, a water sample was taken and the DNA of zebra mussel was detected in that water sample. This was a water sample taken near the boat ramp at Burbank Park. Subsequent water samples were taken later in the fall and very early this spring, there were still non-detects in those water samples for DNA showing the presence of zebra mussels," Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said.

"We continue to, most recently as this Tuesday, we are sampling for zebra mussel EDNA and we should know the results of those samples certainly by early next week."

McGrath addressed the commission with a sense of urgency, as the lake is currently around 52 degrees Fahrenheit and the zebra mussels begin to activate around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  He described it as "an opportunity to take what could be a potential massively serious ecological issue at Onota Lake and nip it in the bud."

"What we're proposing here is a collaborative approach where there are many stakeholders involved," he said. "This is not Jim McGrath proposing the use of EarthTec QZ at the lake. This is something we have been very deliberative about."

The application was continued from the previous meeting so that it could be filed as a state Ecological Restoration Limited Project.

"Really what it means is that it's eligible, which I think this project meets the eligibility requirements, it affords the right to not have to comply with general performance standards for the resource area that's being impacted," Conservation Agent Robert Van Der Kar said.

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