Massachusetts school districts from Boston to Pittsfield are facing budget deficits and weighing educator layoffs, citing millions in spending shortfalls.

Boston officials said 70% of the city's schools could see staff reductions. The Braintree School Committee supported a plan that would eliminate 33 positions, Andover let go of 34 educators earlier this year and Brookline and Pittsfield are considering hundreds of teacher cuts.

“Roughly 100 staff members, including myself, were notified that they will not have a job, but they must wait until May 15 to receive [formal] notice,” English teacher Samantha Sarantakis told the Braintree School Committee recently. “It is no longer a matter of if you lose talented and dedicated staff, but when.”

District officials attributed the budget deficits to a combination of factors, including union-negotiated salary increases, declining enrollments, inflationary pressures and the loss of one-time pandemic relief funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).

Former Andover School Committee member Tracey Spruce said layoffs of 34 educators in Andover were a direct result of last year’s teacher strike.

“The school committee made very clear to the union and to the community that if the district agreed to the financial demands the union was making, there would be layoffs,” she said. “Sometimes you have to make hard decisions.”

Matt Bach, president of the Andover teachers' union, said the cuts were “clear retaliation” against the teachers and a sign that the district was not negotiating in earnest.

He said a Town Meeting vote last week restored $1.8 million to the school budget, although it's unclear if the educator positions will be restored.

“There are communities that recognize the value of their schools, and I think Andover is one of them,” Bach said. “There's just a disconnect between some of the electeds and what the community wants and prioritizes.”

Researcher Marguerite Roza, director of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab, said teachers needed raises to keep up with broad increases in inflation and cost of living.

Teachers, “all wanted bigger than normal raises to keep up with what felt like inflationary pressures,” she said.

But as inflation increased, student enrollment declined in many districts. That created a budget crunch because state, local and federal spending on schools is calculated per student.

“When they have fewer kids, [districts] have fewer dollars,” Roza said. “For some districts, that will be coinciding with the loss of the federal [pandemic] relief money.”

Pandemic relief funds run out this year for school districts. Massachusetts schools’ received $2.9 billion in emergency relief funding following COVID-19; September is the last month schools can use it.

That has made budgeting for next year grim in some communities. The city of Braintree, on the South Shore, faces an $8 million gap. Local officials said $5 million of the shortfall stems from pay increases awarded in a new teachers’ contract last October.

Rachel Horak, Braintree School Committee vice chair, attributed the shortfall in her district to a combination of, “the ending of ESSER money, COVID relief money, and the compounding issues of increased inflation, increasing costs and contractual costs for staffing.”

Committee member Justin Rollo said ESSER funds have run out and district cash reserves have been depleted, forcing drastic decisions about staffing.

“The town was consistently using one-time funds to fund an operational deficit,” Rollo said.

Truong Dinh, Braintree teachers’ union president, said some in the community want to believe the district is overspending or extravagant, even if that's not the case.

“We're not paying exorbitant rates for salaries. We're not paying huge rates for maintenance of buildings,” Dinh said. “We're actually cutting bare bones, so we're not again, misspending money. The issue is the revenue side.”

In western Massachusetts, Pittsfield School Committee member William Cameron said the heightened needs of students that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic have not simply disappeared, keeping district costs high.

“ESSER funding was time-limited. We had it for about three years, so we knew it was going to run out,” Cameron said. “But the [student] needs have not receded as much as I think everybody had hoped. Things have not returned to a pre-COVID normal.”

Some school districts, like Braintree, are discussing a tax override to cover the deficit. Horak, of the school committee in Braintree, said if an override vote doesn't pass, “we'd have to cut 100 staff, which is about 20% of our workforce. And it could threaten our accreditation.”

She said the community appears supportive. Parents protested potential cuts outside the school in early April.

“We have had a tremendous outpouring of support from teachers, from parents, from extended family members, from members of the community who don't have children in school,” Horak said. “We want level-funded services. We want this budget funded at 83.5 million. And please don't cut staff,” is their message, she said.

Horak and Rollo said Braintree still needs longer-term funding solutions. But if an override doesn’t pass, students and the community will see the consequences for years to come.