Martha’s Vineyard high school budget hearing attracts few taxpayers

Martha’s Vineyard high school budget hearing attracts few taxpayers

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Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) principal Steve Nixon gave a detailed explanation of a proposed $17,642,376 fiscal year 2014 budget at an hour-long public hearing held Monday night by the school committee. The new budget is 5.5 percent higher than the FY13 budget of $16,938,627.

About 20 people attended the hearing at the Performing Arts Center. Other than West Tisbury town accountant Bruce Stone and Tisbury finance and advisory committee member Mary Ellen Larsen, the audience included mostly school committee members and Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools staff.

Mr. Nixon said about 74 percent of the high school budget’s 281 lines either dropped or remained level. The bulk of the FY14 increase is in fixed costs, which increased from $4,763,844 in FY13 to $5,407,750 next year.

That number includes an additional $560,000 in the line item for residential care tuitions for special education (SPED) students who must live in facilities off Island that provide the services they require. Currently there are 10 students in residential placement.

Retirement, insurance, and debt service add up to $4,092,449, or about 23 percent of the budget, and salaries $8,926,041, another 51 percent, Mr. Nixon said. Over two-thirds of the faculty are at step 10 or above on the pay scale and receive increased pay based on their years of experience and advanced degrees.

The draft budget does not include any salary increases, as contract negotiations are currently underway with the teachers’ and other school employees’ bargaining units.

As evidence of the high school’s cost-cutting measures, Mr. Nixon said teaching positions have been eliminated in nearly every subject area since 2008. The number of core curriculum sections being taught has decreased from 176 in FY05 to 158 in FY13. During the same time period, the school has added 16 alternative classes and 5 emotional/behavioral sections to meet SPED students’ needs, and 11 classes related to MCAS mandated by the state.

Unfortunately, Mr. Nixon added, for the past five years the state has cut revenue by a total of $539,177, from $3.8 million in FY10 to $3.2 million projected for FY14.

The MVRHS school committee will vote to certify the budget at a meeting at 7 pm on December 3 in the school’s library conference room.