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Chapter 70 Fix Adds $2.4M to Pittsfield School Budget

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local and statewide advocacy has led to a correction in Chapter 70 funding, adding another $2.4 million in aid for fiscal year 2025.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Kristen Behnke reported last week that the state Department of Secondary and Elementary Education has recognized 11 more low-income students in the district, bumping the district back into a higher reimbursement group.

She said it is "very welcome news given this budget situation."

The School Department had missed the cut by 0.04 percent, or two students, costing the district millions in state education aid but this was found to be a technical error.

"Because it's a fix to the budget, it's part of the Chapter 70 formula and it's recognized by the House Ways and Means and it's low-income students, we fully expect that this part of the formula will carry through and that we will continue to see this additional funds in the Senate Ways and Means budget, the House and Senate final budgets, and right through to the final state budget so this is really wonderful wonderful news," she told the School Committee.

The fix is a $2,464,181 increase over the governor's budget number, totaling an increase of $3,113,429 from FY24 to FY25. Before the adjustment, the district was staged to receive an increase of $649,248.

The fix also affected districts across the state, as about 1,500 low-income students were accounted for who hadn't been recognized.

Both the committee and the City Council passed a resolution calling for fully adjusting Chapter 70 education aid for inflation in FY25 and beyond. Superintendent Joseph Curtis pointed out that Behnke found the error and worked with Mayor Pete Marchetti and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier to get it rectified.

He said DESE's first inclination was that it was the district's issue but through Behnke's persistence and work, they finally conceded that it was not.

"So I really have to acknowledge her work," Curtis said. "If she did not find that we'd be in a very different place to see me for the discussion."

At the beginning of the meeting, Chair Williams Cameron reported that the body would receive some "very encouraging news."

"I want to take special note of the help that has been provided to the city of Pittsfield and to the Pittsfield Public Schools, most importantly to the young people at the city, by Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier who has done amazing work on behalf of the district in what appeared till very recently to be extremely dire circumstances," he said.

The $80 million budget's shortfall, previously $3.6 million, is now projected at about $1.6 million but staff members are being notified about position cuts on the $3.6 million deficit level "to protect the financial interests of the school department and the city" because the contractual notification dates are well before the budget adoption.

Curtis also spoke about how impactful the proposals have been on school staff, saying they "are people that put their heart and soul into the work each and every day and certainly share our concerns in mitigating the impact of these cuts on our children and our families."

"When times become difficult, there are members of the School Committee and the community at large that start to make judgments about what people do and how they do it and start to assess value and worth based on either their complete knowledge or their lack of knowledge,"

"And as I will fully admit, I am not a viewer of Facebook comments ever because I feel that would impede my judgment as the leader of this organization. I have heard already several reflections in the community about certain positions and I would caution each person that maybe make those conclusions, assumptions, judgments, whatever we want to title it, that these are people that every day give it their absolute all."

He also outlined proposals for central office reorganization, explaining that it is a chance to approach some of the central office operations in a different way but not a chance to return to the past.

Included in the reorganization is the collapse of the deputy superintendent and curriculum director into the assistant superintendent of curriculum and accountability.

This position is described as an instructional leader whose sole responsibility is to provide unwavering support to principals and directors, ensuring assignment and adherence to consistency, supportive, and rigorous instructional policies, materials, and practices across the district.

Tags: fiscal 2025,   Pittsfield Public Schools,   pittsfield_budget,   

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Dalton Planning Board Works to Update Special Permit Fees

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
DALTON, Mass. — The Planning Board is navigating how to update its special permit fees to bring them up to date with the current costs of services. 
During the board meeting last week, Town Planner Janko Tomasic said the cost of completing the services is higher than what it costs to take action on the application.
The current application fee charged by the Board of Appeals and the Planning Board is $375. 
This fee is intended to cover the cost of labor, time, materials, postage for the certified abutters list for abutter notification, postage for the certified mail for the notice of the decision, and two Berkshire Eagle legal advertisements for the public hearing.
"According to the data, the base cost for a permit application is barely enough to cover the cost of the application process," according to Tomasic's special-permit costs breakdown. 
Based on the last six permits, the least expensive permit is $414 to complete because of the increase in cost for the steps in the permit process.   
The flat certified mail fee for eight letters is $69.52, which covers the cost of certified mail to abutting towns, the applicant, and notice of the decision to the applicant
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