School funding battle began at state level
The Education Reform Act of 1993 started the school funding ball rolling, and in 2006 the legislature enacted a new formula, the aggregate wealth model, mandated to go into effect in fiscal year 2007.
The local contribution piece of the formula requires a minimum amount of spending by a regional school district on education, which is determined by the Department of Education (DOE) and known as a "foundation budget."
The goal was to ensure that all school districts attain foundation budget spending levels, a minimal amount of local revenue that cities or towns are required to contribute to schools.
In the past, state aid formulas were determined by dividing either the equalized property valuation (EPV) or some form of income by a denominator such as enrollment or population. The state's latest formula calculates a town's aggregate wealth, based on its total EPV and its total income.
While DOE officials acknowledged that data used to determine the Island's formula numbers was somewhat flawed, they assured town officials that at the end of a five-year transition period, the assessment amounts would be similarly apportioned to those in the Island's existing regional agreement.
Under DOE regulations, all six Island towns would have had to approve the existing regional formula to keep it intact, while only four of the six needed to approve the state formula by July 1, 2007.
For fiscal year 2008 the state's mandated statutory formula decreased Aquinnah's assessment by about $61,000 and Oak Bluffs's by $435,000. Assessments increased for Chilmark ($75,258), Edgartown ($86,000), Tisbury ($241,000) and West Tisbury ($122,000).
The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School school committee approved the regional high school budget using the Island's existing regional agreement to determine town assessments.
When Oak Bluffs voters rejected the formula at their town meeting on April 10, the school committee was required to go back and redo the town assessments using the statutory formula.
Aquinnah approved the statutory formula at their annual spring town meetings. At a special town meeting on June 5 West Tisbury followed suit and approved the new formula.
At a special town meeting the end of June, Chilmark voters agreed to increase the town's regional high school assessment.
Chilmark's vote ended the contentious battle among Island towns over how to divvy up the regional school assessment.
Edgartown voters finally approved the formula at a special town meeting on Dec. 4 when voters approved a total of $86,446 in additional money for the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School assessment.
With help from Senator Robert O'Leary and Representative Eric Turkington in August Island towns received $252,000 from the Education Foundation Reserve, also known as the "pothole" account, to reduce the financial impact on Chilmark, Edgartown, Tisbury, and West Tisbury imposed by the state's statutory Chapter 70 funding formula for the regional high school.