The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) will hold a fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget hearing at 7 pm, Dec. 13, at West Tisbury School. Despite salary and wage increases and other rising costs, school leaders and administrators managed to hold the line, bringing in a budget for the Chilmark and West Tisbury Schools that is up by only .36 percent over last year.
The proposed FY09 budget for both schools is $8,225,000, compared to $8,196,000 last year. Chilmark School's FY09 operating budget, at $989,000, represents a 4.06-percent decrease from $1,030,469 in FY08. West Tisbury School's FY09 operating budget rose only slightly to $5,139,000 from $5,059,000 in FY08, a 1.53-percent increase. Enrollment at West Tisbury School went up this year from 273 to 283 students, and down at Chilmark School from 50 to 42 students.
West Tisbury School
"We've been keenly aware of the political climate in which we're living and operating, as well as our fiduciary responsibility, and we're trying to have the leanest budget that can produce the best results for our students," said West Tisbury School principal Michael Halt in a phone call Tuesday. "We've worked closely with our school advisory council to help produce the budget, and we think it's one that will meet the students' and the taxpayers' needs."
The overall assessments for member towns Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury, which include the superintendent's office and school committee shared programs, site operating budgets, and building debt, will go up by about 4.35 percent. The proposed FY09 assessments are based on an amended regional agreement, using the Oct. 1, 2007, enrollment census. For FY09, Chilmark and West Tisbury will each pay 80 percent of the capital costs for their town's school.
Under the amended regional agreement for the FY09 budget, Aquinnah's assessment will be $592,000, a 12-percent decrease from FY08, Chilmark's assessment $1,813,000, a 23.1-percent increase, and West Tisbury's assessment $5,820,000, a 1.43 percent increase, before reimbursements and revenue.
Shared services increase
Like other Island schools, the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools will see hefty increases in their costs for the superintendent of school's shared services next year, due to the addition of some new special education programs and a facilities manager, who will work with school administrators and head custodians in overseeing all of the Island's school buildings, including maintenance and capital projects. The All-Island School Committee approved the superintendent's budget last month, which is up by about 24 percent for the UIRSD.
The up-Island district's share of the total superintendent's shared services, a number partially based on enrollment, will be $146,000. The district's share of the facility manager's salary amounts to $19,333 and the special education programs, $43,477.
"I'm fully supportive of the superintendent's shared programs," Mr. Halt said. "The up-Island school district will appreciate significant cost savings. We would be looking at adding more staff and services to meet the needs of incoming special education students, and would be bearing the cost entirely on our own for our students otherwise."
Mr. Halt said that the addition of a facilities manager next year provides West Tisbury School with an opportunity to restructure his and vice principal Bob Lane's administrative roles, as well.
In a proposal recently discussed with the school committee and school advisory council (SAC), next year Mr. Lane, whose duties previously included facility oversight, will spend 70 percent of his time working as an administrator and 30 percent teaching some industrial technology classes, as he used to do.
As a result of the administrative change, the school would save a half-time teacher's salary and benefits, which could amount to more than $40,000 for the school district, according to assistant superintendent for business affairs Amy Tierney.
"I told the school committee that we'll see how the new facilities manager and new arrangements between Mr. Lane and myself go this year, and then we'll reassess it next year," Mr. Halt said.
Although during last year's UIRSD budget hearing, West Tisbury Finance and Advisory Committee chairman Al DeVito questioned the number of teachers and paraprofessionals at West Tisbury School, Mr. Halt said this week that he and the school's advisors felt they could not afford any more teacher reductions, having dealt with the loss of several teachers through attrition over the past few years. Mr. Halt added that most of the paraprofessionals currently on staff, with the exception of two in the kindergarten classes and one in the library, provide services to students with special needs who are fully integrated into regular education classrooms.
As another cost-saving measure for West Tisbury School in FY09, a part-time secretary position with a full-time benefits package has been eliminated. With the changes in administrative roles and secretarial services planned for next year, Mr. Halt said he wants to ensure that he and Mr. Lane continue their practice of being available to students and teachers at all times.
Although the new capital agreement drove up assessment costs for Chilmark next year, Chilmark School will realize cost savings in salaries and benefits for two special education teachers. "I had two positions that I no longer need - that made a tremendous difference in terms of us being able to lower our budget," Principal Diane Gandy said yesterday. "Other than that, we don't really have that much to cut. We're trying to be conscientious and mindful of the programs that we have, and we try to look at the budget in a way in which maybe we can take from one line item to another to fill any gap we may have - I think that's being responsible."
Ms. Gandy said the school staff tries to take advantage of resources in-house, and the Parent-Teacher Organization provides additional funds as much as possible to support programs.
Other district savings
The UIRSD also will see tremendous savings in transportation, Ms. Tierney pointed out, with a reduction in costs paid for late-run buses, because the high school will be paying a bigger share. "Those savings are covering a lot of the increases in salaries at the up-Island schools," Ms. Tierney noted.
In follow-up to previous discussion, the UIRSD school committee may decide at next week's budget hearing to offset the 4.35-percent increase in the member towns' assessments with $158,000 from excess and deficiency funds, Ms. Tierney said.
They also may consider upping the budget's bottom line to include funds for school bus purchases, she added, in order to avoid bonding or short-term interest costs. The UIRSD school committee added $110,000 and $140,000 to previous budgets to build up a fund for school bus purchases.