Pittsfield School District faces 5.5% budget increase

The sign outside Pittsfield Town Hall is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

The sign outside Pittsfield Town Hall is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Pittsfield School District held its deliberative session on Thursday Feb. 8, 2024.

Pittsfield School District held its deliberative session on Thursday Feb. 8, 2024. ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL—Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-09-2024 12:56 PM

The same three factors cited by local school districts for driving up budgets – increased insurance costs, investment in special education and raises for workers – are behind the same trend in Pittsfield.

At the annual school district deliberative session on Thursday night held at Pittsfield Middle High School, officials outlined a proposed 5.5% increase in the budget for the 2024-25 school year.

On March 12, Pittsfield residents will vote to decide whether to approve the $11 million budget or reject it in favor of a slightly lower default budget of $10,818,721.

The increase generally stems from three areas: increased insurance costs, further investment in special education and salary and benefit increases for union staff.

The district has 73 staff members who participate in its insurance program, and with a rate increase of 18.6%, the cost to the district will go up by $253,626. In addition, the district is adding six paraeducator positions that will raise the budget by $134,130, while the salary and benefit increases for unionized staff adds an additional $134,551.

The district has needed to expand its hiring of paraeducators to support its special education program because of an increased number of students who require additional accommodation, school officials said.

The initial budget proposal called for nine new paraeducators, but the overall increase would’ve been 8.8% from this year’s budget.

“The administration knew (that) was an unacceptable number,” said Adam Gauthier, the school board chair.

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To reduce costs, administrators eliminated nearly $395,000 from the original proposal, including cutting two staff positions, both currently unfilled — a math teacher and a foreign language teacher. They’ve also pivoted to funding their second reading specialist and guidance specialist through various grants.

The current budget increase results in an estimated tax impact of $1.56 per thousand dollars of assessed value, or $468 annually for a $300,000 home.

On election day, residents will also cast their vote for two school board members who will serve three-year terms. Other warrant articles on the ballot will include one to appropriate $330,000 for the support of the school lunch program and another to appropriate $850,000 from federal and private grant funds. Neither will impact the tax rate because both simply allow the district to accept and disburse the money.