School committee approves superintendent’s budget


The All-Island School Committee (AISC) approved $3.85 million for the superintendent’s office and shared programs budget for fiscal year 2012 (FY12) at a meeting on October 28. The new budget is up by $273,697, a 7.65 percent increase over the FY11 budget of $3.57 million.

AISC chairman Daniel Cabot said the challenge for the committee this year would be to communicate to the public the complexities behind the budget increase.

“Some of it is the cost of special education, which the Island one way or another is going to be liable for, but some of it is an artifact of the accounting procedures that were used,” Mr. Cabot said.

The draft budget superintendent of schools James Weiss initially presented to the AISC on October 14 showed an increase of $266,498, about 7.45 percent over last year. The second draft Mr. Weiss provided last week included an additional $7,199 due to changes in the Martha’s Vineyard Adult Learning Program grant benefits and payroll obligations.

A budget analysis provided by Mr. Weiss showed that additional operating expenses of $36,796 account for 1.03 percent of the increase. New special education (SPED) programs, which include a second Bridge Program for children with autism spectrum disorders and communication and social interaction disorders and an expanded summer program, will cost $149,883 and increase the budget by 4.19 percent.

The conversion of contracted physical therapy services to a physical therapist position on the superintendent’s staff adds $87,016, or about 2.43 percent, to the shared-services budget.

The cost actually is a shift from contracted hourly physical therapist services paid from local school districts’ budgets to a salaried position included in the shared-programs budget. The AISC voted last spring to add a physical therapist to the superintendent’s staff, whose salary would be paid proportionately by each school district. Mr. Weiss said the shift would save the school system about $20,000 in FY11 and more in the future.

Since FY11 school budgets had already been certified as an interim step this year, school districts are paying funds already allocated for physical therapy services in their operating budgets or through School Choice funds into a pass-through account in the superintendent’s office. Next year the position will be included in the shared-programs budget.

“While I wish our budget were level-funded or at a very small increase, we can’t provide additional services without the additional dollars,” Mr. Weiss said. “And it really is our belief that the additional services — the summer programs, the physical therapist that’s here instead of in the local budgets, and the Bridge Two program — are truly necessary.”

A matter of accounting

In discussion about the budget, AISC chairman Daniel Cabot pointed out that the SPED summer program budget increase reflects the real cost of the program, which was underfunded for the past two years. While $42,000 was budgeted in FY10, for example, the actual cost of the program was $70,851. The FY12 budget includes $77,716 for the program.

Committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury questioned how the superintendent found the extra money to cover the funding shortage for the SPED summer program, if the previous shared-programs budgets were truly pared down as much as possible.

Mr. Weiss explained that funds to bridge the gap for the summer program came from two areas. There was some money left over in the pass-through account from local school districts, and adjustments in healthcare costs also freed up some funds.

“We budgeted what we thought we needed, and then somebody left or somebody took a single plan instead of family healthcare plan, and that’s in a sense, the float between the years that allows us to spend some of that money,” Mr. Weiss said. “We budget for what we have in place, but we really don’t know 18 months from now where we’ll be. So when we started to expend our [FY10] budget, we knew already by then that some of that stuff had changed. And we also tightened our belts. We didn’t do some things that we were going to do. We have to make those priorities.”

Mr. Weiss said that the FY12 budget includes an estimated increase for healthcare costs, which appears on track with what he learned at a meeting the previous day with the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group, a municipal joint healthcare purchase group to which the school system belongs.

“They’re not at a point to say exactly how much healthcare will go up or down, but they said the trend if something doesn’t happen is at about 10 percent, which is included in this budget,” Mr. Weiss said. “We will get firmer numbers too late to change this budget, in December or January, but for some of you, the local school budgets will be able to make the adjustment.”

Mr. Weiss’s second draft FY12 budget also included some preliminary FY11 state and Federal grants totaling $793,009 to offset special education programs, which he said should be added to the $3.8 million to come up with the total cost for all services provided by the superintendent’s office and shared programs.

Change in assessments

Depending on the type of school program, some costs are split between five school districts, including the high school, while shared elementary school programs are divided up among the four elementary school districts. Those include Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and the Up-Island Regional School District, to which Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury belong.

The costs for school programs are divided up among the Island school districts based on enrollment. Consequently, enrollment fluctuations affect the cost shares allocated to each Island school district.

With the increase in the FY12 shared services budget, assessments will go up by $24,615 (7.46 percent) for the regional high school district; $49,143 (6.47 percent) for the Up-Island regional district; $45,242 (5.79 percent) for the Edgartown School district; $50,144 (5.11 percent) for the Oak Bluffs School district; and $104,550 (14.42 percent) for the Tisbury School district.

The AISC approved the FY12 superintendent’s office and shared-programs budget 9 to 1. Mr. Manter cast the dissenting vote.