The regional high school committee's decision to certify a $12,259,605 fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget narrowly passed by one vote at a meeting Monday night, with members divided on the issue of funding a facilities manager position in the superintendent's office.
School leaders relented somewhat under pressure from parents, students, faculty, and the community by restoring some funds to the music and guidance departments, and offsetting the budget increase with excess and deficiency funds (E&D). However, they made it clear that tough budget decisions and the need to make cuts will be an ongoing reality in the face of declining enrollment and escalating costs.
Citing the drop in numbers from 822 students to 766 over the last two years, school committee member Leslie Baynes cautioned, "In a sense, this is a minute to midnight. It's going to get harder and harder. Peg Regan's job is to try to create a budget that will have the least impact on all the kids. Something is going to have to be done."
Budget hearing aftermath
After a public hearing on the draft FY09 budget on Nov. 28 at which time many of the 150 people who attended protested the proposed cuts, the high school committee's budget subcommittee met last Friday morning to take another look at the numbers.
At Monday night's meeting, Principal Margaret (Peg) Regan reported that the committee was recommending three major changes that would bring the bottom line of the budget down to $12.26 million from $12.45 million.
The committee recommended restoring funds in a music department salary line to pay for a half-time position, instead of eliminating an entire position as originally proposed, which increased the amount from $157,8819 to $198,705.
Martha's Vineyard Regional High School personnel included under high school instruction programs budget:
In most cases, the numbers represent a full-time equivalent position. However, some teachers teach in more than one subject area, which may show up as a separate listing below, even though a part-time position.
The instruction budget for high school programs includes everything related to classroom instruction. It does not include salaries for custodians, the school nurse, the athletic director and assistant director or the athletic trainer, which are included under "other school and community services: high school programs."
Assistant principal 2
Social Adjustment counselor 1
Art (including technology and photography) 4
Business education 2
English/reading specialist 1
Reading specialist 1
World language 8
Home economics/science 1
Music (incl. choral, theater/arts, music/strings) 4
Social studies 8
STAR program/special needs 1
Special needs 8
Special needs paraprofessional 8
English as a second language (ESL) 1
Driver's education 1
Physical education/health 3
Physical education 3
Vocational education (auto, early childhood, culinary arts, building trades, horticulture) 6
Rebecca Amos Institute 3
Library assistants 2
Administrative assistant 1
Administrative asst/scheduler 1
Principal's asst 1
Fiscal control secretary 1
Attendance secretary 1
Asst principal's secretary 1
Guidance secretary 2
Special education secretary 1
Mailroom asst 1
Technology director 1
Technology coordinator 1
Performing arts center director 1
A second recommendation came to the budget subcommittee from the land use subcommittee following a meeting on Nov. 29, advising the postponement of bonding a wastewater project for the high school, which would reduce the FY09 budget by $101,000 in principal and $34,384 in interest.
The budget subcommittee's also recommended using $140,000 of $678,955 in excess and deficiency (E&D) funds to buy two special education buses to be used on Island. The committee also suggested using $250,000 in E&D funds to offset budget increases in assessed expenses. That would leave about $280,000 in funds as a safety net for unanticipated expenses during the school year, Ms. Regan said.
With the word out last week that the draft FY09 high school budget contained proposed reductions in music, drama, and guidance programs, more than 150 people showed up for a public hearing held by the school committee on Nov. 28. The overflow crowd made it necessary to move the meeting from the high school's library resource room into the library itself.
Over the course of two and a half hours, many asked questions and offered emotional testimony in support of the music and drama programs, including several high school students.
The draft budget Ms. Regan presented at the public hearing contained several proposed reductions in staffing, as well as reduction in the summer of 2008 paid workdays for guidance counselors from 32 to 15.
Ms. Regan explained the decisions were made based on the numbers of students enrolled in programs, and that music was one of the areas that showed a decline.
Consequently, proposed budget cuts in the arts would eliminate guitar, piano, and individual voice classes, with a net decrease of one music teacher's position.
A soundtrack technology course, instrumental, choral, and major music programs would remain, Ms. Regan assured everyone. However, superintendent of schools James Weiss explained, because a reduction of force has to comply with the terms of the teacher's union contract, no one knew yet which music teacher's position would be affected.
Since enrollment in television and drama classes also had dropped, Ms. Regan and the budget subcommittee proposed that Ms. Murray teach drama three-fifths of the day and assume duties as a performing arts center instructor the rest of the day, in order to maintain her full-time status.
Many in the audience questioned why the music and arts program took the hardest hit and athletics had not been targeted. Ms. Regan pointed to the high number of students involved in athletic programs.
A list of high school personnel [below] shows that three of six physical education teachers also teach health. The salaries for the athletic director, assistant to the athletic director, and athletic trainer fall under the "other school and community programs," instead of under the instruction budget category where the music and arts teachers' salaries are found.
At the hearing's end, Ms. Regan offered to meet with anyone who had not had an opportunity to ask a question or make a comment before the school committee meeting on Dec. 3.
School committee debates
Before starting Monday night's meeting, school committee chairman Susan Parker opened a public comment session for the audience of about 30. Guidance department chairman Michael McCarthy started the session by presenting a letter from the guidance counselors to the school committee asking them to add 10 paid summer workdays back into the schedules for the upper classmen counselors, at a cost of about $15,000. The counselors reasoned that the department's budget would still see a reduction equivalent to one-third of a position, while allowing them the additional days to maintain a strong upperclassmen program over the summer.
In response to criticisms from several people that the music department was bearing the brunt of the cuts, Ms. Regan said emphatically, "I'm not decimating a department - it's very difficult to reduce in force. It may be an important program to the community, but we're talking about fiscal responsibility. I'm retaining as much as possible in programs for all students."
School committee member Judi O'Donoghue took exception with the criticisms, as well. "There is not one of us here who looks at arts and music as a frill," she said. "We see it as it as an integral part of education. This is about looking at the whole big picture and being fiscally responsible." She thanked the public for attending the budget meetings, adding, "I urge you all to continue to advocate."
With the public comment session closed, Ms. Regan explained the budget subcommittee's three recommendations to the school committee.
She said that the message she and the budget subcommittee heard from the school community was that choral groups need both a conductor and an accompanist. To remedy that, the committee agreed to restore three-fifths of a music teacher's position, to include benefits.
"In a multi-million dollar budget, it seems ridiculous not to be able to come up with money to fund another half position," commented committee member Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter, who also serves as a West Tisbury selectman and police officer. He also questioned the need to cut the guidance department budget. "I find that the more time guidance counselors deal with students during the day is less time I have to spend with them in my profession."
Mr. Manter, who has served on both the high school and up-Island school committees over the past nine years, spoke in opposition to using E&D funds to offset budget increases, which he likened to using savings account funds to pay household bills.
He also expressed skepticism about the true cost of the new facility manager's position in the superintendent's budget, which he said did not include office expenses. He also questioned whether it was necessary, given that administrators in the different school buildings seem to be capable of handling the responsibilities themselves.
School committee member Priscilla Sylvia countered, "In Oak Bluffs, our school desperately needs this position - we spend 50 percent of our school committee meetings trying to figure out how to get things fixed." Added Ms. O'Donoghue, "What sold me was the idea of getting educators off roofs and out of boiler rooms and back into the classrooms."
The committee voted 5 to 4 against a motion by John Bacheller of Tisbury to amend the budget to eliminate the high school's share of the costs for the facilities manager. Maura Valley of Tisbury, Roxanne Ackerman of Aquinnah, and Mr. Manter joined Mr. Bacheller in voting yes, while Ms. Parker, Ms. O'Donoghue, Ms. Mericier and Mr. Baynes voted no.
The same split occurred in the vote that followed to certify the budget's bottom line at $12,259,605, with 5 in favor and 4 against.