Regional school budget pared down, ready for vote
The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School's (MVRHS) budget subcommittee put the finishing touches on a pared-down fiscal year 2007 budget that brought projected increases down from seven percent to under three in a meeting last Monday.
"We are in as good a shape as any high school can be," said Margaret (Peg) Regan, the high school's principal. "We are fortunate in this community to be given the budget we need to adequately educate every student."
On Dec. 1, at 7 pm, Ms. Regan will present the budget for approval at a public all-Island selectman's meeting in the high school library. Some of the towns have already weighed in with requests to keep the budget increases to a minimum. West Tisbury's board of selectmen wrote to Ms. Regan that they would support the up-Island share of the high school budget if it were level-funded. Tisbury's finance and advisory committee (FinCom) requested the high school district to aim for an increase of no more than 3.5 percent.
Due to changes in the numbers of high school students from each town, Chilmark's assessment will drop by 26 percent and West Tisbury's by 10.8 percent. Aquinnah will have the biggest increase at 31 percent, Tisbury 10 percent, Edgartown 9 percent, and Oak Bluffs 2.7 percent.
The fixed costs in the total operating expenses in the FY07 were up by 17 percent. "The impact we can have in this budget is around a few hundred thousand dollars - the rest is set," noted Leslie Baynes, committee member.
Although the high school district assumed the operation this year of its school bus service, which formerly was contracted to a private vendor, some of the budget decreases were in transportation line items. The change in bus service brought differences in accounting methods, as well.
For example, reimbursable transportation costs can be apportioned between the high school and the up-Island regional districts, since both receive reimbursements. Non-reimbursable transportation costs will be split among all of the Island schools, except Edgartown School, which owns and operates its own school buses. This reduced the high school's budgeted transportation outlay.
Although the bus drivers now are school employees, they work part-time and are not entitled to benefits. Maintenance for buses on-Island is contracted through the Vineyard Transit Authority and from off-Island vendors for two buses that are kept on the mainland.
Some of the other FY07 budget expenses will be covered by using the high school's excess and deficiency fund (E&D). Under Massachusetts State law, regional high schools are allowed to keep up to five percent of their operating budget in reserve in an E&D account every year so they will not have to go back to the towns for funding for capital projects or other emergency funds (similar to a town's free cash).
Some of the E&D fund will be used to buy one or two new school buses next spring. "The E&D fund is to protect the towns from us having to ask for more revenue. We won't have huge hikes next year as we purchase buses," said Ms. Regan.
Last year, the high school district used $115,000 of the E&D fund and had an excess above the five percent limit which will be returned to the Island towns in the form of reduced high school student assessments in March 2006. By projecting a lower expenditure of $50,000 in E&D funds for FY07, the budget will come in at just 2.8 percent more than last year, including extra funds for anticipated increases in heating and utility costs.