ACE MV turns to schools to fund Island adult ed program


Members of the board of Adult Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) met with James Weiss, superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, Thursday to ask him to support a plan to funnel taxpayer funding through the school system.

ACE MV executive director Lynn Ditchfield hopes that the school system can be persuaded to contract out for adult and community education services. Once in place, ACE MV could then bid to provide the requested services. Nantucket funds its adult education programs in a similar way.

Initially, ACE MV had planned to ask the towns to contribute directly to the program, which forecasts a deficit of $130,000. But over the course of presentations to each of the Island boards of selectmen ACE MV representatives learned that the towns could not fund 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

“They would like me to act as their fiscal agent,” Mr. Weiss told The Times Monday. “But its a little more complicated than that.”

He said he will work with Edgartown attorney Ron Rappaport to figure out what the school system can do. “We want to help them,” Mr. Weiss said. “We do not want this to disappear. The question is how do we move forward. I don’t know that yet.”

Mr. Weiss said he will have to get approval from the All-Island School Committee, which does not meet again until the first week in February.

“I will let them know ahead of time by email, probably within the next week, if this all comes together, and if I get a positive sense from the various committees then we will move forward,” he said.

ACE MV headed on a new tack following a meeting with West Tisbury selectmen. West Tisbury selectman Cynthia Mitchell, a program supporter, consulted with town counsel Mr. Rappaport, who contacted the state department of revenue (DOR).

At the November 20 meeting of the West Tisbury selectmen, Mr. Rappaport described an alternative funding approach that would allow the towns to fund the program by contracting for services through the school system.

Ms. Ditchfield has asked that the program be listed as a separate article on the town warrants so that it not be confused with the regular school budget. “The response from Mr. Weiss at Thursday’s meeting was very, very positive,” she said. After the details are worked out she said ACE will help draft warrant articles for the towns that will cover the program’s deficit.

Time to make ACE MV a reality for the next fiscal year is limited. “We have to have our proposal in to at least two of the towns by the end of this month,” she said. “We’ve been through some interesting turns with democracy. It looks very promising in many ways. I do think this is going to happen.”

The alternative, Ms. Ditchfield said, is to shutter the program. “If this plan does not make it this year we will have to cease and desist,” she said. “There will be no ACE MV. We will have to close our doors. There will not be enough to pay for the staff we need to continue to provide the services the community needs and wants.”

The growth of the program has not been matched by sufficient growth in the operating budget needed to pay full-time staff for full-time work, ACE MV directors said.

To meet ACE MV’s financial needs, Ms. Ditchfield and Sam Hart, who volunteers as ACE’s director of development, visited boards of selectmen in the six Island towns to appeal for financial support. They have asked town leaders to place funding articles on annual town meeting warrants this spring that would generate a total of $130,000.

The program has nearly doubled in size since it was started in 2008, and the nonprofit organization’s fees and tuition do not generate enough income to fully fund administration and overhead at the current level, Ms. Ditchfield told The Times in a recent conversation.

Raising tuition in order to cover costs is not a straight equation, according to Ms. Ditchfield. The unpredictability of class enrollments and a desire to keep classes affordable to the larger population limit tuition increases, she said.

A copy of the organization’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget that Ms. Ditchfield provided to The Times shows $169,448 in total expenses.

Total earned income for FY 2013 is listed as $102,509. Contributions and fundraising bumped that figure to $123,773.