Superintendent trims fiscal 2010 budget for his office
When the All-Island School Committee (AISC) met last week for final review and approval of superintendent James Weiss's office and shared programs fiscal 2010 budget, he caught everyone by surprise with a request to revise it - down, not up.
Given the economic upheaval over the last few weeks, Mr. Weiss said, "The sense in the air is this is going to be a challenging year for our Island, as well as our state and our country."
In the end, the committee approved a $3.5 million budget for the superintendent's office and shared services. The sum, a 2.4-percent increase over this year's spending, represents about 8.5 percent of Island-wide Martha's Vineyard Public Schools costs, which total $40.8 million.
On October 3, he presented the AISC with a draft fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget totaling $3.57 million, an increase of about $164,000 in expenditures and a 4.81 percent increase over FY09. Of that increase, Mr. Weiss said personnel cost increases, most tied to contractual obligations, amount to about 97 percent.
He also recommended adding $10,000 to the budget for possible wage increases for two administrators, which would push the percentage increase up to 5.12 percent.
The AISC voted to approve the additional money, with the caveat that they would give the salary increases further consideration before final approval of the budget.
Since then, Mr. Weiss explained at the October 29 meeting, "We reviewed our budget rather carefully, and would like to give you a revised budget reflecting what we think is in keeping with the tone and flavor of what Martha's Vineyard is probably looking for."
Mr. Weiss and his staff came up with a revised budget totaling $3.5 million by reducing increased expenditures from $174,000 to about $90,000, which brought the overall budget increase down to 2.64 percent.
The AISC voted to approve the new budget but postponed a decision on assessments for the school districts, pending discussion at a meeting tonight regarding the regional high school's share.
How it adds up
Although Island town officials and finance committees were encouraged to provide input about the budget, Mr. Weiss said he received only one letter on behalf of Edgartown from town administrator Pam Dolby requesting level funding in FY10.
About 69 percent of the superintendent's office/ shared services budget, about $2.46 million, provides direct services to students and educators Island-wide in the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS).
Of that number, special education services account for the biggest percentage of the shared programs budget, including student support services, Project Headway, the Bridge Program, an early childhood program, psychologists, an occupational therapist, speech and language therapy, and transportation.
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.
Taking Edgartown's recommendation for a level-funded budget into account, Mr. Weiss provided two lists detailing specific services and expenditures that the AISC could choose to reduce or eliminate in order to achieve either a 2.64 percent budget increase or no increase.
In the first draft budget, Mr. Weiss said he already trimmed the superintendent's staff as much as he could, with the reduction of half of a full-time equivalent business secretary and reduced hours for one financial assistant.
Mr. Weiss said he and his staff began their budget-cutting process by looking at $5,000 to $10,000 expenditures and came up with a 14-item "hit list" totaling $84,500. Included were Mr. Weiss's most recent additions for records retention management, facilities consulting services, and induction and mentoring programs.
Scaling back plans for adding an extended day component to the Bridge Program, a centralized program for students with multiply involved disabilities, from 10 hours a week to three would pare the costs from $28,000 to $8,000. Running a Grade 8 honors algebra program in individual elementary schools instead of offering it to a small group of students pulled from schools Island-wide would save $10,500. Cutting participation in Felix Neck programs in half would save another $6,000.
Turning to a second list, Mr. Weiss explained it would be necessary to cut another $90,000 in order to avoid any increase in the overall budget.
The ten items on the list included reducing a speech/language teacher and an elementary strings teacher serving schools Island-wide from two and a half days to two, and eliminating a Project Headway assistant's position.
Funds for asbestos management, the spelling and geography bees, and elementary athletics would be removed from the superintendent's shared services budget, as well, and left to the individual schools to cover.
"So in order to get to zero and maintain the contractual obligations and salary increases that we already have, we had to reduce services to kids or cost-shift to the local districts," Mr. Weiss said. "This is not something that I am pleased to bring forward to you, but if you are saying we have to meet zero, that's where we are."
Committee member Marshall Segall of West Tisbury questioned whether individual schools would be under the same pressure to keep their budget increases down and might not pick up the extra costs.
Mr. Weiss said that was why he was advocating a 2.5 percent increase, not zero, which would cut out some services better provided through his office on a regional basis.
Choosing the middle ground
After a long discussion, the AISC agreed on some compromises. Since schools are allowed to use a percentage of grant money towards indirect costs associated with administering the grants, the AISC took Mr. Weiss's suggestion of utilizing $10,000 from grants offset. Of that money, the committee agreed $6,000 will go towards fully funding Felix Neck programs, and $4,000 towards the Bridge Program extended day services.
In addition to $10,000 for salary increases for two administrators, Mr. Weiss's proposed budget includes $22,000 approved by the AISC personnel subcommittee, which is four percent of the total FY09 salaries for his office's non-union personnel, as a pool of money to divide up among them for cost-of-living increases.
Roxanne Ackerman of Aquinnah made a motion to eliminate the $10,000 addition, for which Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter of West Tisbury voiced his support. As a compromise, Susan Parker of Chilmark made a motion to amend the amount to $5,000. Both motions were defeated, leaving the COLA money and salary increases intact.
With the budget approved, the AISC took up discussion about assessments to the local school districts. Mr. Weiss reminded the committee that the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School District pays a 20-percent share and Island elementary schools varying percentages based on enrollment numbers. The high school does not pay a portion of programs and services that relate only to the elementary schools, however.
Mr. Manter argued that the 20-percent figure is disproportionate, because the high school represents about 34.5 percent of Martha's Vineyard's school population, based on October 1 census figures. He proposed changing the percentages so that the high school would pay more.
Although Mr. Weiss agreed that the high school's percentage does not accurately reflect the superintendent's office's level of involvement there, he said he was concerned about making a change at this point in the high school's budget process.
Mr. Manter also questioned the elementary school assessments, particularly as they relate to School Choice students. Using the Edgartown School district numbers as an example, he pointed out that this year Edgartown is sending 31 School Choice students to other Island schools and receiving 11 School Choice students. The net result is that other towns are picking up the cost of 20 Edgartown students' share of the superintendent's budget, he noted.
Mr. Manter's motion to assess towns where students reside rather than where they go to school was defeated. In discussing the motion, several committee members said they thought it would be better to take up the issue with next year's budget so they could give it more careful consideration.
At Mr. Weiss's suggestion, the AISC agreed to hold another meeting tonight at 6 pm at the West Tisbury School to discuss the high school assessment percentage. School business administrator Amy Tierney said she will provide assessment amounts that factor in where School Choice students reside for review at the meeting.