Up-Island school district keeps budget tight
The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee voted 4 to 1 Monday night in favor of certifying a fiscal year 2010 (FY10) total operational budget of $8.41 million, of which $7.88 million will be assessed to the member towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury.
The motion to certify the budget included approval of using the district's regional agreement to determine town assessments.
The FY10 operational budget represents a .60-percent increase over $8.35 million in FY09. The total assessed FY10 budget increased by .48 percent from $7.84 million last year.
Looking at the separate site budgets for the district's two schools, West Tisbury School's FY10 budget of $5,671,249 increased 5.28 percent over last year's adjusted budget of $5,386,800. Chilmark School's FY10 budget at $986,510 decreased 1.4 percent from last year's adjusted budget of $1,000,476.
School committee members at Monday's meeting held at West Tisbury School included chairman Marshal Segall, Susan Parker of Chilmark, Dan Cabot of West Tisbury, Roxanne Ackerman of Aquinnah, and Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter of West Tisbury.
Mr. Manter, also a West Tisbury selectman, cast the dissenting vote, based on a number of objections to the budget that he raised during an hour-long public hearing starting at 7 pm that preceded a school committee meeting.
School administrators at the hearing and meeting included West Tisbury School principal Michael Halt and assistant principal Bob Lane, Chilmark head of school Diane Gandy, superintendent of schools James Weiss, assistant superintendent of schools Laurie Halt, and school business administrator Amy Tierney. Several teachers attended the budget public hearing, as did the West Tisbury and Chilmark selectmen.
How it stacks up
Ms. Tierney pointed out that, unlike last year when the district spent $208,000 on bus purchases, there were no capital expenditure items this year. As a result, budget increases were offset by significant transportation cost savings, as well as by an 8.77-percent decrease in building debt.
Chilmark selectman J. B. Riggs Parker questioned why the West Tisbury site budget is up 5.2 percent. Ms. Tierney said that health, dental and retirees' insurance are driving the increase, as well as salary increments. Most of the district's teachers who are retiring are from the West Tisbury School, she said.
"In all of these budgets, the biggest hits come from contractual obligations," said school committee member Dan Cabot. "The increase in the West Tisbury site is not because of added programs."
Chilmark selectman Frank Fenner asked whether it would be necessary to replace two West Tisbury School teachers who are retiring, given that enrollment is down.
Mr. Halt said that enrollment increased this year and is expected to do so next year, and that he does not plan to make teacher reductions next year. During his tenure, the full-time staff has decreased by seven teachers, he added.
"We're trying to achieve zero percent; any giving on the superintendent's or School Committee budget would help," Mr. Fenner suggested. "Most of our taxpayers are seniors on fixed incomes. You've come very close, but anything you could do to achieve that would be appreciated."
"We really looked hard and cut where we could," Mr. Halt responded. He also pointed out that the UIRSD pays for its own transportation, and for health insurance, which is not included in other Island school district budgets.
Ms. Parker noted that some increases in the superintendent's budget are due to the loss of grants for services the district must continue to provide - a speech and language pathologist, for example.
Bringing down the bottom line
In a lengthy budget meeting on December 4, the UIRSD school committee met with Mr. Weiss, Ms. Gandy, Mr. Halt, School Advisory Committee and Parent/Teacher Organization representatives, and several school staff members.
According to draft meeting minutes, Ms. Gandy and Mr. Halt presented lists of possible items to cut in order to bring their school budget increases down to zero percent, as requested by the Chilmark and West Tisbury selectmen.
Mr. Halt's list included $10,535 for extra curricular activities, $6,800 for off-Island field trips, and $2,250 for art supplies. After careful discussion, the committee agreed to cut $6,400 from a line item for crossing guards and $45,000 from funds for painting exterior trim on the West Tisbury School, which reduced the site budget by $51,900.
Ms. Gandy's list of possible cuts included an instrumental music program and part-time Spanish teacher. The school committee deemed both too important to cut. Instead, the committee agreed to cut several items that amounted to $7,203. The reductions in both sites totaled $59,103.
Divvying up the costs
Under the terms of the UIRSD regional agreement, the budget is divided into four parts - superintendent's office/shared services costs, school committee (district) costs, separate site operating budgets for the two schools, and building debt.
The towns' shares of the superintendent's and school committee costs are based on the total enrollment per town, divided by the total district enrollment. The towns' cost shares for the site operating budgets are based on the enrollment per town in each school, divided by the district enrollment of each school. Chilmark and West Tisbury each pay 80 percent of building debt for their towns' schools.
District enrollment totals 331 students, including 33 School Choice students from other Island school districts. That number does not include 41 Charter School students and 19 School Choice students, for which the district must pay tuition to their out-of-district schools.
Chilmark School has 39 students, including 6 from Aquinnah, 5 from West Tisbury, and 4 School Choice students, in grades K-5. West Tisbury School has 292 students, including 16 from Aquinnah, 35 from Chilmark, and 29 School Choice students, in grades K-8.
Carol Petkus, a West Tisbury School grade 7/8 science teacher, asked about the two schools' per pupil costs, an issue that has long been an issue of contention for Mr. Manter in the debate on operating two schools in the district. Ms. Tierney said she only calculates one per-pupil cost for the district.
Mr. Manter, however, said based on dividing the two sites' operating expenses by the number of students enrolled, he figured West Tisbury School's per pupil cost is $21,563 and Chilmark's is $28,186.
With the district and superintendent's office expenses added in, Mr. Manter estimated West Tisbury School's per-pupil cost is $26,300 and Chilmark School's is $32,900.
"From the beginning Chilmark knew we'd have an expensive school - we know that the per-pupil cost will be higher," said Chilmark selectman Warren Doty. "We wanted a site budget so that Chilmark will pay its fair share. We need to make sure the voters in West Tisbury aren't paying a premium for our school. We want to pay the premium for our school."
Ms. Tierney said Mr. Manter's estimations did take into account several factors used by the state, including a higher allocation for middle school students. The Massachusetts Department of Education website shows a per-pupil cost of $20,578 for the UIRSD in 2007, compared to $11,859 for the state average.
"If you go to the State website, it compares the per-pupil costs, based on a state formula," Mr. Weiss said. "The fact that Island schools have a higher per-pupil cost is correct - we have a deeper, richer program."
Keeping Chilmark head of school
Several who attended the budget public hearing remained for the regular school committee meeting. The evening's lengthiest and most emotional debate concerned the topic of Chilmark School's future leadership.
Mr. Weiss announced that Ms. Gandy has submitted a letter of retirement, effective at the end of the school year. Ms. Gandy works 10 months out of the year, which is considered a head of school rather than principal's position.
Mr. Weiss said in talking to the Chilmark School community, parents, faculty members, and the school advisory committee argued strongly in favor of keeping the school's administrative leadership position. He recommended moving forward in a search for a head of school candidate who also will work part-time as a reading specialist, which will save the school district $32,000.
Mr. Manter, however, suggested Ms. Gandy's retirement might present an opportunity for a better allocation of resources, such as running both schools with one principal.
"I can't object more forcibly than I will now, in talking about Chilmark School," Mr. Parker said. "The school needs leadership - scholastic leadership, administrative leadership, and social leadership. I think if you take the head of school away, you're saying we can manage that with a phone call. I think that's unrealistic and wrong, and I call upon you to continue what has been a successful operation."
The school committee voted 4 to 1 in favor of Mr. Weiss's recommendation to hire a head of school/reading specialist for Chilmark School. Mr. Weiss also provided a search timeline and a draft advertisement for the position for the school committee to review.
The UIRSD school committee's next meeting will be held in Aquinnah on January 26 at 7 pm.