Up-Island school committee gets a head start on new school year


The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee met on Monday night to get a jump on the new school year before students return on September 6.

When they do, West Tisbury School’s kitchen renovation project will be wrapped up and the new food service program ready to roll, principal Michael Halt and school business administrator Amy Tierney reported. Jenny Devivo has been hired as the new head cook.

Mr. Halt gave special thanks to the volunteer renovation team: Jay Napior of Radius Construction, David Sprague of Nelson Mechanical Services, electrician Steven Gallagher, and volunteer coördinator Nicole Cabot, as well as the many parents and community members who helped.

Regarding another summer project, Ms. Tierney said a new bathroom at Chilmark School for the preschool, paid for by the town and preschool, was successfully completed. Unfortunately, the project revealed some problems at the school building with leaks, drainage, and wood rot, which she and superintendent of schools James Weiss said would require a plan for further study and funding.

Enrichment class envy

School committee member Michael Marcus of West Tisbury, who has been a vocal advocate for more enrichment programs, questioned Superintendent of Schools James Weiss about a new one for math at Edgartown School this year.

“It made me feel jealous,” Mr. Marcus said. “Why not here?”

Mr. Weiss said the math enrichment program resulted from the collaboration of an Island-wide committee of teachers and administrators. The intent is to offer a pilot program first at Edgartown School under strict guidelines, and to check the data to see if there is a significant increase in middle school achievement.

“Part of the discussion about where to offer the program was who could come up with $100,000, between salaries and benefits,” Mr. Weiss added. Edgartown School is using School Choice money to fund it.

“We trying to do this in a methodical way so we can replicate it and get good results,” he explained. Mr. Weiss said he did not want to duplicate mistakes made with an eighth-grade honors algebra program, which exceeded the staff’s capabilities because it was implemented too quickly. It began as a pilot program at Oak Bluffs School in the spring of 2008 and was expanded to students Island-wide that fall.

“We want to do it methodically and carefully, so if we put it in place, it works,” Mr. Weiss said.

E&D funds, salary increases

Ms. Tierney gave the committee a draft analysis of the UIRSD’s estimated fiscal year 2012 (FY12) excess and deficiency (E&D) funds for certification and expenditure in fiscal year 2013. She said the state allows school districts to keep a maximum of 5 percent of the previous year’s budget, which would be $436,970.

Ms. Tierney estimated $357,759 as the school district’s FY12 E&D, adjusted for $100,000 designated towards the Other Post-Employment Benefits liability, which is retiree healthcare. Since that falls below the 5 percent maximum, the school district does not have to return money to the member towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury.

As he has in the past, school committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury objected to the school district’s keeping the funds and then making decisions on how to spend them, especially on non-emergency items, without a vote from taxpayers.

“We go over this budget and spend months at it, and not a nickel or dime can be found anywhere; we can’t cut a nickel,” Mr. Manter said. “But over two years, there is over $900,000 we overassessed the towns. We could have lowered their assessments by 457,000 and still be in the black.”

Ms. Tierney explained that the state allows school districts to keep five percent of their budgets in reserve as E&D funds, similar to a town’s free cash, for emergency expenses and cash-flow purposes. E&D funds also are a positive factor in a school district’s bond rating, she added.

“We’re doing what is a prudent business practice for a public entity,” Mr. Weiss said.

The committee, with the exception of Mr. Manter, voted to approve the E&D number.

The school committee also voted to approve 2012-2013 salary increases for management and non-union staff for the new school year, retroactive to July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The committee approved a pool of money for the increases in June and instructed Mr. Weiss to decide how to divide it up based on the staff members’ evaluations.

Mr. Weiss said he kept the increases between two and three percent, similar to union employees’ average cost of living increases. Based on his recommendations, the school committee approved administrator salary increases for Mr. Halt from $109,700 to $114,02 and head of Chilmark School Susan Stevens from $83,640 to $85,940. West Tisbury School assistant principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, who will serve as the interim director of student support services this year, received an increase from $91,000 to $93,790.

Money returned to Aquinnah

In other business, school committee voted to put an additional $781 in Impact Aid funds received from the U.S. Government for 2007 towards reducing Aquinnah’s assessment for the school district.

The Impact Aid Program provides financial assistance to local school districts that have lost property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt Federal property, including Indian lands.

It has been the UIRSD school committee’s tradition since 2008 to return the money to Aquinnah, since the town receives no property tax from Wampanoag tribal housing that would go towards its school district assessment.