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.

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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.

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.