|State Budget Includes $50K to Keep Preschool at Conte, Morningside|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:45AM / Friday, July 21, 2017
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Department was close to closing all of its preschool classes at Morningside and Conte Community schools, two schools that need it the most.
But, between the efforts of state legislators and the teachers union, there will at least be a couple classes left. The state budget includes $50,000 to help fund those programs.
"This money will go to restore two paraprofessional positions, which in addition to two teaching positions restored by the [United Educators of Pittsfield] giving up half of their step increase (these are just two of several positions which that allowed to stay) means we go from having zero regular-education pre-k sections at Morningside and Conte, to having one section in each, which is half of what we have had in years past," Superintendent Jason McCandless wrote in an email.
"This is a big, big deal to us, and we are very grateful to Rep. Farley-Bouvier, Sen. Hinds and Gov. Baker for this money to allow pre-K programming."
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and state Sen. Adam Hinds had filed the amendment in the House of Representatives following a difficult budget year for the school district. The department was looking at cutting some 73 positions districtwide
, which includes eliminating four preschool programs at the two schools. The UEP voted to forego raises for half a year to save some of those jobs, reducing the actual job loss to 68.
"The School Department this past budget year was really feeling the pain," Farley-Bouvier said. "I put great value on early education and pre-K ... I felt this was one thing I could do to help keep classrooms open."
Hinds said he was in close contact with city leaders during the budget process and wanted to find some way to ease the burden.
"We were determined to include any support we could muster," Hinds said.
Early education rose to the top because "you see the steps the superintendent took and we were struck by the impact on the most vulnerable." Hinds said it is "crystal clear" the impact investing in children early in their lives has on their future.
Farley-Bouvier emphasized the importance of getting children up to grade-level reading by the third grade, which has been a focus of the Pittsfield Promise, and studies have shown children who attend preschool do better educationally than those who don't.
The budget amendment stuck throughout the process and was included in the budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, despite his distaste for earmarks.
"There was a clear need to fill and gap. We worked closely with local leadership and it serves a purpose," Hinds said of why the funding avoided Baker's veto pen.
While the $50,000 bodes well for the city's school system, another one of Farley-Bouvier's budget amendments was vetoed — $75,000 for a ShotSpotter. The gunshot detection system has been deployed by the Police Department for months and the city is looking to come up with $600,0000 to pay for the entire length of the contract (there is an "out clause" should the city be unable to pay for the final years).
"The city put money into that, there were private donations, this was a real community effort to make Pittsfield safer," Farley-Bouvier said.
The Pittsfield Democrat said she'll be looking to override the governor's veto.
"I feel confident that the Legislature put forth a responsible budget and we will stand by it," Farley-Bouvier said.
Mayor Linda Tyer said she is thankful for the $50,000 for early education, but also disappointed the ShotSpotter money was not included in the budget.
"Much like our city budget, the state budget has many challenges. The governor and the state legislators had to make tough decisions. While we had hoped for more financial support from the state for early education, I'm pleased that our request wasn't completely eliminated," Tyer wrote in an email Tuesday.
"I am, however, very disappointed that our request for $70,000 in ShotSpotter funding was completely eliminated. In my view, investments in both areas, early education, and crime prevention go hand in hand in making Pittsfield a safe place where everyone has an opportunity to thrive. I extend my sincere gratitude to the Rep. Farley-Bouvier, Rep. Mark, and Sen. Hinds for their united support on both of these items throughout the entire state budget process."
The private and non-profit early education programs did receive a boost in the budget. Farley-Bouvier said $15 million was added into the early education salary reserve line item. The money will help raise up the salaries for early education teachers, which have historically been cited as being too low.