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Pittsfield Council Vexed by Refusal to Explain Lost School Grant
By Joe Durwin, Pittsfield Correspondent
04:53PM / Wednesday, December 12, 2012
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City councilors were frustrated Tuesday that school and union officials couldn't team up for a $20 million grant but could agree not to speak to them.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Members of the City Council expressed frustration and disappointment Tuesday at an invitation declined by the School Department and leading teachers union to appear before them to account for the controversial failure to apply for a $20 million Race To The Top grant for which the city was eligible.

The opposing views on why the grant was not applied has so far been debated publicly only in the form of published letters in The Berkshire Eagle from both the United Educators of Pittsfield and interim Superintendent Gordon Noseworthy, prompting Ward 6 Councilor John Krol to put forth a petition asking that both sides appear before the council to further clarify the subject. The petition was approved unanimously by the council in November.

In a joint letter responding to the council's request, the administration and UEP thanked the council for the invitation but opted not to accept it.

"The School Committee and the United Educators of Pittsfield respectfully decline your offer as we view the topic as closed and we need to move on and deal with the issues and challenges facing us," said the letter.

"I'm extremely disappointed," said Krol, in response to the rebuff by the two groups.  

"It wasn't that long ago that, only a couple of meetings ago, that they did make that appearance when they wanted their raises," Krol continued. "But when they dropped the ball on $20 million that could have benefited our children and our taxpayers, they have chosen to be absent."

Several councilors echoed frustration with the refusal, indicating that this was a matter on which they'd heard from many constituents seeking answers.

"I think that everyone in the city is deserving of that information," said Councilor Christopher Connell. "Just to decide not to appear... personally, I'm a little offended."

The dispute between school officials and teachers resulted from tight time frames and failed collaboration, according to the lengthy letters each sent to The Eagle.

Noseworthy claimed there was a tight turnaround in getting the 195-page grant written and approved. The teachers, he said, would not collaborate. "Instead of offers of how we could work together there were excuses framed around the fixed timeline," he wrote.

UEP, on the other hand, said the problems stemmed from failure to include teacher or union leaders in the grant-writing process: "Keeping us up to date, allowing input as things proceed and truly making us a partner will bear many more successes."

The grant required signatures of school officials and the president of UEP. The union voted 135-41 not to sign the grant, with about 30 percent of the membership voting.

Councilor Melissa Mazzeo said both missed an opportunity to explain themselves, pointing to confusion between the different versions of what happened laid out to the media. "Now we're just going to speculate."

"I think the public has a right to know what went wrong," agreed Councilor Anthony Simonelli.  

"I understand that it's a closed deal, it's nothing that can be rectified at this point, so I can understand them not wanting to discuss it," added Councilor Christine Yon. "However, it is difficult for the taxpayers that they didn't come here to give an explanation of what the breakdown was.

"When it came time to sit down and negotiate a contract, both sides got together and worked it out," said Councilor Kevin Morandi. "But when it came down to doing what's best for the city, to help the taxpayers and help everyone in the city, they couldn't sit down and think of that."  

"What does this community know about the situation that transpired? We have dueling letters to the editor," complained Krol. "We're left in the middle, trying to understand what happened here."

Editor's Note: The links are to letters posted on The Berkshire Eagle that may disappear behind an archive wall.

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