Superintendent would spend $3.5 million in fiscal 2010
Personnel costs account for the bulk of a 4.81-percent increase requested by superintendent of public schools James Weiss in a draft $3.57 million fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget for his office and shared programs for schools Island-wide, compared to $3.41 million in FY09.
"What I'm putting forward is a budget that basically has no new programs," Mr. Weiss told the All-Island School Committee (AISC) in a budget presentation at the regional high school in a meeting last Thursday night.
Of the $164,148 overall FY10 budget increase he proposed, Mr. Weiss said personnel cost increases, most tied to contractual obligations, amount to about 97 percent.
"It's hard to make any major changes in our budget because it's all people-related," Mr. Weiss said. "We feel our services are appropriate, they are high quality, and they are effective."
Providing a brief overview, Mr. Weiss said the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) include about 2,100 students, 500 staff, facilities assessed at a value of about $84 million, and a $40.8 million operating budget for five school systems.
Mr. Weiss said increased personnel costs relate to staffing adjustments, contractual percentage increases for teachers, assistants, and secretaries, and a pool of four percent of the total salaries for non-union personnel for cost of living adjustments (COLAs).
Proposed staffing adjustments include the reduction of a .5 full-time equivalent (FTE) business secretary and reduced hours for one financial assistant. Additions include one FTE Project Headway assistant and a .5 FTE speech and language therapist, formerly covered by a Federal grant that has been decreased, according to Director of Student Support Services Daniel Seklecki. Not only do grants have less buying power than in the past, Mr. Seklecki said, but there also are fewer of them available.
Uncertainty about the future of grants makes it difficult for school systems' budgets, Mr. Weiss said. For example, he pointed out, although his FY10 budget shows $153,000 in occupational therapist salaries as funded from a grant, should the grant become unavailable in the future, the school system must continue to provide the services.
Preliminary FY09 grants included in the FY10 budget total about $1.16 million. "We generally budget our state revenues based on what we're receiving this year," Ms. Tierney said.
Most of what MVPS receives in Federal money passes through the state, Mr. Weiss added. "We're not going to qualify for sources of new state funds," he warned.
Personnel costs related to contractual obligations include salaries, benefits, payroll obligations, and longevity. Given that union members will get a step increase plus a cost of living adjustment (COLA), Mr. Weiss said he raised the issue of COLAs for about eight non-union personnel on his staff in a meeting last month with the AISC personnel subcommittee.
The subcommittee agreed to his request for $22,000, which represents four percent of the total FY09 salaries of the nonunion personnel, as a pool of money for COLAs to divide up among them.
At last week's AISC meeting, Mr. Weiss also proposed adding $10,000 to the salary increments line for wage increases, specifically for MVPS business administrator Amy Tierney and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction Laurie Halt, because there would not be enough in the "pool" for COLA and salary increases for both of them.
Compared to the average salaries of similar administrative positions in Bourne, Barnstable, Falmouth, Nauset, Wareham, and Nantucket, Mr. Weiss said Ms. Halt's FY09 salary is about $30,000 less and Ms. Tierney's about $9,700 less.
The school committee voted to add the $10,000 to the salary increments line, with the caveat they will give it further consideration before final approval of the budget. AISC member David Rossi suggested putting the $10,000 directly into the individuals' salary lines so that it would not appear that the COLA "pool" is more than four percent.
To illustrate how the superintendent's budget is spent, Mr. Weiss provided a pie chart showing that 84 percent is spent on staffing costs, including 63 percent for salaries, 15 percent for health and dental benefits, and 6 percent for other payroll costs.
Ms. Tierney said she anticipates healthcare costs will go up 10 to 12 percent, although cost increases Island-wide have been somewhat ameliorated by a move by many school system employees to less expensive health insurance plans.
Shared services programs
About 69 percent of the superintendent's office/shared services budget, about $2.46 million, provides direct services to students and educators Island-wide.
Of that number, special education services account for the biggest percentage of the shared programs budget, including student support services, Project Headway, the Bridges Program, an early childhood program, psychologists, an occupational therapist, speech and language therapy, and transportation.
Last year an increase in the number of preschool children served in the Project Headway program necessitated a second classroom. Anticipating the need for a higher-grade, center-based program as children move from Project Headway into kindergarten, last year Mr. Weiss and special education staff proposed the Bridges Program, a centralized program to serve students Island-wide with multiply involved disabilities.
In addition to the continuation of a second Project Headway classroom this year, the Bridge Program operating at Edgartown School currently includes one teacher and two assistants who work with three students included in two kindergarten classes.
"If you had to provide these services separately in each school they would undoubtedly cost much more," Mr. Weiss said.
The cost of the Bridges Program actually will decrease next year, from $181,000 to $157,000, with a savings of about $20,000 gained by hiring a younger teacher, Mr. Weiss said. However, there is a need for an extended day program for students served by the Bridges Program, at a cost of about $28,000.
The extended day program will include a variety of therapies and instructional programs for four students and their families, Mr. Seklecki said, with a goal to lessen the amount of intervention they might require later.
"We're looking at a full school program during the day plus additional hours," explained Autism Specialist Hope MacLeod. "This will help the kids apply what they're learning at school at home; it will bridge the gap to help them gain skills in other places."
The extended day program will be held two hours a day, ten hours a week, with nine hours spent in direct care to the students and their families, Ms. MacLeod said. The program will operate four days a week at school and one day in students' homes, with a goal to transition to four days at home and one day at school. Existing coordinators will train new staff and conduct home visits.
Other shared programs in the superintendent's budget provide Island-wide enrichment and outreach programs for all schools, including grade 8 honors algebra, choir, elementary strings, intramural athletics, the Yard dance program in elementary schools, and the Felix Neck environmental program.
The shared services budget also includes funds for professional development and network support for all MVPS staff. Mr. Weiss requested an additional $10,000 under curriculum and instruction/professional development for induction and mentoring programs, which he said are required by state law for all new professional educators. "If they don't participate, they can't move to the next level of licensure," he explained.
Mr. Weiss said $10,000 will cover the expenses of the induction and mentoring programs, formerly funded by a small grant when there were fewer new teachers. Stipends for teacher mentors come from individual school budgets.
Mr. Weiss also requested $10,000 to upgrade hardware for the school system's computer network and the addition of two new line items, $5,000 for records retention management and $5,000 for facilities consulting services.
The superintendent's office maintains all public school records, as required by law, Mr. Weiss explained. Currently, some are kept in the school administration building's basement and others in off-site storage. The initial $5,000 will be used to hire a company to begin organizing the documents.
The funds for facilities consulting services will be used to explore options for an alternative worksite for the superintendent and staff. The Pine Street building in which they now work is too small, lacks privacy for confidential conferences, and is not handicapped accessible.
Noting the school administration's important regional role, AISC member Leslie Baynes said, "It's time to move them out of that building - they produce significant savings and improve the quality of life for students and their families."
Several finance and advisory committee members from Island towns also attended the meeting.
The AISC will vote on the superintendent's budget at a meeting on Wednesday, October 29, at 7 pm in the regional high school's library conference room.