Pittsfield Council Cuts School Budget After 'Unprofessional' Comments

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council preliminarily approved a $216 million budget for fiscal year 2025 with a last-minute reduction to the schools.

The meeting took an unexpected twist when displeasure with comments made during a School Committee meeting last week was brought forward and councilors voted to reduce the district's $82 million budget by $200,000, dropping the proposed city budget to $215,955,210.

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III motioned for the reduction, clarifying that it was not a retaliation. Two days before the School Committee meeting on May 22, there were unsuccessful motions to reduce the district budget by $730,000 and $250,000 during Committee of the Whole.  

"First and foremost I will call the comments made about the City Council and the job that we do very unprofessional," Persip said.

"I was very disturbed to hear School Committee members who sat in this audience criticized us for doing what we're supposed to do and that's criticize these budgets. Some of the comments really threw me off, for lack of a better term. We were questioned for questioning line items. How dare we? How dare we suggest where we want to see cuts?"

Councilors expressed concerns about the district being "top-heavy" and underperforming and questioned some administrative positions during the district budget deliberation. One of which was a secretary job at the Mercer Administrative Building.

"I want to clarify when we say top heavy, I don't really mean deans who work in the schools, I don't really need principals who work in the schools, I mean people that work at the Mercer building," Persip said.

"Just to be clear because it wasn't clear to the people that were here the other night."

Persip added that one of the questioned positions appeared to be a new one, saying, "The way it was proposed to us was that it was a new job. How did we know the schools started hiring? How was I supposed to know and why are we the bad guys for criticizing a new job? Something that, in my opinion, doesn't help the school system."

Last week's School Committee meeting began with a few members sharing statements about the budget deliberation that lasted four hours on May 20.

Chair William Cameron reported that six of the 11 council members met with the school administration about the budget and that the budget was preliminarily approved in a 6-4 vote. Ward 6 Councilor Dina Lampiasi was absent.

"I believe that however that at least six, and possibly more than six, members of the City Council will recognize on June 11, that in developing this budget, the School Committee has in fact taken the needs of students, families, and the orderly, instructionally effective management of Pittsfield schools into account," he said.

"That the committee actually recognizes and understands the changing educational needs of the children and young people of this community and is prepared to make substantive changes to meet those needs and that the School Committee's FY2025 budget addresses both the effective day-to-day operation of our schools in the coming year and serious long-range planning for meeting the educational needs of every student in a city that is changing, in a society that is changing."

Committee member Sara Hathaway said what she heard from deliberations is that the criticized positions are not appreciated and are just "some kind of frill that we've added."

"These are real people and they were not treated well, they were treated as numbers instead of human beings," she said, adding that she is "very demoralized."

School Committee Vice Chair Daniel Elias agreed, adding "We all have to be careful, all of us and the counselors as well, that when discussing certain positions and cuts, there's always a person behind that position, and that person may be sitting home and listening and nothing more demoralizing than to hear that maybe what you do doesn't count because no matter what you do, everyone wants to know they have value and worth and what they do matters."

Committee member William Garrity said he was "disappointed by some of the remarks and suggestions made to reduce the budget" and that only six councilors had personal meetings with district leaders.

"I want to address one of the things that shocked me the most about the suggested cuts: the additional secretary at Mercer," he said.

"It astonishes me that it took until COVID to get a secretary for Mercer and a locked building. With all the talk about school safety, we need to ensure the safety of our administrators at Mercer, which is why we need a secretary there, and it astonished me that the City Council feels like this position is not needed and Mercer can be less safe than our schools."

The $200,000 cut passed with President Peter White, Councilor at Large Alisa Costa, and Ward 4 Councilor James Conant in opposition.

"I think the City Council did its job and I'm proud of the job that we do," Ward 7 Councilor Rhonda Serre said.

"Nothing was ever meant to be a personal attack on any other person. I think that most department managers understand that and I would like to see the elected committees of the city work better together to acknowledge that we all have the same goal. We're all trying to do what our charge is in our piece of the legislative process and our piece was to analyze and review and that's what we did."

Costa fears cuts to the school budget could mean kids getting hurt.

For White, the $200,000 seemed "symbolic" and would not do much for the tax rate.

"I'm hoping that we can work closer with the School Committee over the next years so we can let them know where we want to see changes happen so we can have as much of an effect as we can working together knowing that they have line item control," he said.

Lampiasi explained that she had not attended the meeting due to the recent birth of her child but watched it on Pittsfield Community Television and felt that her colleagues seemed to ask the right questions.

"And when I later reviewed the School Committee meeting I was also, I think disappointed is the right word, maybe a little taken aback by some of the comments that were made," she said.

Mayor Peter Marchetti was in the middle, understanding the frustrations and the council vote.

"This administration has tried on day one to be open and communicative and to achieve the goal of one Pittsfield and that's where it's at," he said.

"So I stand ready as I did day one when I submitted the budget to the City Council, to accept the wishes of the City Council and I will abide by the wishes of the City Council but I think it's important to state as the mayor I voted for the budget, I put the budget forward, and as we talked about all the reductions that we've all seen in made, I think it's true across the board."

The council will take a final vote to adopt the FY25 budget on June 11.

Tags: fiscal 2025,   pittsfield_budget,   

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Pittsfield Starbucks Closed Temporarily

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff

A sign outside the coffee shop assures customers the closure is only temporary. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Your alarm goes off, you get ready, and you leave for school, work, or whatever your appointment a little bit early to get a cup of coffee to start your day, only to find that the Pittsfield Starbucks, located at  555 Hubbard Ave., is closed. 
The sign has been removed, and the drive-through is blocked, but Starbucks coffee addicts need not worry — this closure is only temporary. 
The coffee shop closed its doors temporarily on July 7 to undergo a standard renovation with the chain's new Siren System, a Starbucks spokesperson said. 
According to the signage, the reopening date is projected to be Aug. 21. 
According to its website, the Siren System is part of the chain's Starbucks Reinvention plan, which aims to improve the experience for partners and staff by responding to changing needs and increasing demands. 
"As a standard course of business, we continually evaluate our store portfolio using various criteria to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers," the spokesperson said. 
The chain's article on unveiling its innovations said, "Over the past few years, the number of cold beverages ordered has surpassed the number of hot drinks year-round. And, two in three drinks ordered have requested customizations such as extra espresso shots and flavorings."
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