Superintendent’s FY14 budget approved with 8.8 percent increase

Ralph Stewart

The All-Island School Committee (AISC) approved superintendent of schools James Weiss’s fiscal year 2014 (FY14) budget at a meeting on November 8. The budget totals $4.39 million, which is an increase of $357,258 from $4.042 million in FY13. The vote was 10-2 to approve the budget. Roxanne Ackerman of Aquinnah and Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury voted no.

In presenting his draft budget to the AISC at a meeting last month, Mr. Weiss noted in his cover letter that the 8.8 percent increase is higher than he would like. Additional funds for special education (SPED) support staff, substitutes, and transportation account for a large part of the increase, he explained.

The version approved last week included salary increases for Mr. Weiss, which were approved in his recent contract extension, and central office administrators Laurie Halt, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Amy Tierney, school business administrator, and the SPED director, a position left vacant by Dan Seklecki’s retirement in July. Donna Lowell-Bettencourt currently serves as the interim director.

“Other than listing the specific salaries for administrators as requested, no changes have been made to the original budget proposal,” Mr. Weiss wrote in a memo to the AISC. “We remain convinced that the funds requested will be required to provide appropriate services for our students.”

SPED services include occupational, physical, and vision therapies, as well as psychological evaluations, which are direct services to students. Mr. Weiss provided a chart at last week’s meeting that showed SPED costs account for $2,697,786 of the budget, administrative costs, $1,509,659, and student support services, $192,021.

Mr. Weiss’s budget does not include salary increases for bargaining unit school employees, because contract negotiations are currently underway. It does include lane changes and step increases.

As was the case for this school year, Mr. Weiss said additional staffing would be required in the Bridge and Project Headway programs for the 2013-2014 school year. His budget includes two additional full-time equivalent (FTE) Education Support Professionals (ESPs) in the Bridge Program, at a cost of $71,882, and one in the Project Headway program, at a cost of $36,234.

Based on a significant growth in the need for speech and language department services, Mr. Weiss also included the addition of a .5FTE speech and language therapist, at a cost of $31,054.

Another chart Mr. Weiss gave to the AISC showed a breakdown of SPED program costs, minus transportation or related services costs. The Project Headway program’s budget is $385,142, and includes 10 students, at a per pupil cost of $38,514. The Bridge program’s budget is $508,480, and includes 14 students, at a per pupil cost of $36,320. The Social Skills program’s budget is $204,024, and includes 8 students at a per pupil cost of $25,503.

Some students require out of district residential placements, which vary by program and services, Mr. Weiss’s handout explained. “We presently have one elementary student in residential placement (shared by Up-Island Regional School District and Oak Bluffs). The cost for this individual is anticipated to be $88,536 next year.”

The superintendent traditionally leads the way in the annual school budget process that begins in the fall, since his budget includes not only his office but also shared services and programs, including special education, which is provided through his office to the Island’s five school districts.

The costs of those services and programs are divided among the school districts, which include separate elementary school districts in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury, and two regional school districts. The towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury are members of the Up-Island Regional School District, which includes the Chilmark and West Tisbury Schools. The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) District includes students from all Island towns.

MVRHS pays 20 percent of the cost of the shared services and programs it uses. The elementary school districts pay a percentage based on enrollment, which means that their cost shares may fluctuate from year to year.

With the increases Mr. Weiss requested, the high school’s portion of the superintendent’s shared services FY14 budget increases by $29,556 (6.89 percent); the Up-Island Regional School District’s portion by $58,851 (6.95 percent); Edgartown’s portion by $136,807 (15.35 percent); Oak Bluffs’s portion by $58,260 (5.69 percent); and Tisbury’s portion by $73,817 (8.67 percent).