High school subcommittee takes first look at fiscal 2007, $13 million budget
Administrators, faculty, and members of the budget subcommittee sharpened their pencils and took their first critical look at the proposed $13 million 2006-07 budget for the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) District on Friday, September 30.
In opening the discussion, Margaret (Peg) Regan, MVRHS principal, pointed out that the total operating expenses are projected to increase by 9.9 percent to a total of $13,662,000, up a half-million dollars from last year. "Everything else has been level-funded," she told the committee members. Reimbursements and other income are anticipated to offset the budget to $11,022,750, an increase of 7 percent over last year's total assessed expenses.
"There is so much in the budget you can't take out, fixed costs like buses, insurance - about six percent of the budget, you could change, and the rest is nonnegotiable," Ms. Regan said.
Administrative costs are estimated to rise to $391,563, a difference of about $3,000 from this school year, but up by $73,000 since 2004. The 20 percent share that the high school contributes towards the superintendent's office is projected at $199,000, down somewhat this year after a $47,000 increase since 2004. James Weiss, Martha's Vineyard Public Schools superintendent, said he has not developed his budget yet since assuming his office in August, and will be looking at his costs closely.
Total instruction expenses account for $9 million of the budget. Ms. Regan counts her position as principal and those of the assistant principals as part of instruction costs rather than administration, since many of their duties fall under this heading.
Teachers' salaries, of course, are one of the biggest items in this category, projected at $4,780,000 for the 2006-07 school year. Their salaries rose by about $200,000 from the 04-05 school year to 05-06, with a similar increase projected for next year.
Explaining why teachers' salaries are costing more, Ms. Regan said, "We are hiring more teachers at the masters level. We're getting people who can afford to come over here and live, some who have a house here, and are more mature teachers. They're good teachers, and they're not cheap."
Some of the bigger salary increases are for math and English teachers, critical to ensuring success on the MCAS exams, which all high school students must pass in order to graduate. MVRHS employs 10 English teachers, Ms. Regan pointed out, because every student takes an English course every semester, every year.
New staff hired this year included a social studies teacher, a part-time athletic director, a special education 3.5 teacher and a social worker in the guidance department.
The proposed guidance department budget is up by $101,000 next year. Leslie Baynes, a subcommittee member from Edgartown, asked if the high school is offering enough support for its students, to which Ms. Regan answered with an emphatic, "Yes we are."
The standard recommended maximum ratio, she said, is 1 counselor to 250 students, while at MVRHS, it is 1 to 160-170.
Guidance counselors spend almost half of their workday working with 11th grade students, assisting them in career counseling, college selection, and the application process. The school also offers counseling services to its graduates, helping them reapply to another college if one does not work out.
Secretarial needs also are being addressed in this year's budget with new personnel. Margaret Serpa, bookkeeper, plans to retire next June. The salary costs associated with her position include extra money to pay Ms. Serpa for about a month at the beginning of the school year to train her replacement. More secretarial support also will be provided to the guidance department, where one secretary currently serves five guidance counselors.
Special education costs, including administration, instruction, visual services, residential care and transportation, total more than $1,500,000, but also are offset by some reimbursements. In looking at special education line items, particularly residential care, the subcommittee determined that the costs will go up, based on figures for eighth-grade students this year.
An additional $4,000 will go to the library budget next year, up about $9,000 since 2004. "We have 30,000 books, an excellent collection," Mrs. Regan said. "The library staff spends every penny of their budget." Although the library used to remain open for the summer, closing it has saved money, Ms. Regan said. "The high school no longer needs to be the community library in the summer. New libraries in the towns serve that purpose," she said.
With fixed costs that include retirement benefits, insurance and employee benefits at $2 million, Ms. Regan said, "We have to say to ourselves, what percentage do we want to get to?"
In a second meeting on October 11, subcommittee members examined the budget for unspent funds and were able to bring some of the line items down. In looking at fuel and electricity costs, they agreed to chart the costs from September through November in order to estimate next year's expenses. The subcommittee also considered the possibility of offering transition planning for staff members who retire.
As of this week, Ms. Regan had received letters from two Island towns regarding their share of the high school's budget. Citing funding constraints and the fact that education accounts for 21 percent of their town budget, West Tisbury's board of selectmen said they will support the up-Island share of the high school budget if it is level-funded, including all of the increased costs for insurance and salaries.
A letter from Tisbury's Finance & Advisory Committee requested that the budget percentage increase not exceed 3.5 percent. Ms. Regan expects to hear from all of the towns before she presents the budget at a hearing in December.
The budget process continues over the next two months, with subcommittee meetings held in the library conference room at the high school on the following dates and times: Oct. 28 (8 am), Nov. 10 (6 pm), and Nov. 21 (8 am).
Ms. Regan will present the budget to all of the Island selectmen in a public hearing on Dec. 1, 7 pm, in the high school library. The school committee will vote on the final budget on December 5.