All-Island committee passes superintendent’s shared services budget


School superintendent James Weiss presented a revised superintendent’s shared services budget to members of the all-Island school committee Tuesday, but committee members rejected it, preferring instead to stick with the original budget, presented on November 13, which called for $5,401,445 in spending for fiscal year 2015 (FY15), $41,600 higher than the revision.

The total FY15 budget is an increase of $961,870 or 21.7 percent from FY14 totals.

The revised budget had included cuts to the following items: $1,000 for criminal history checks; $3,600 in curriculum and instruction/professional development for site-based coordinators; $25,000 in contractual services for a facilities consultant; $7,500 in student support services for a computer license and support; $4,000 from the shared program expenses for SSA travel; and $500 from an asbestos remediation program.

Mr. Weiss was pleased with the outcome. “We did a lot of hard work on a number of difficult choices,” he said.

Approximately $200,000 of the FY15 budget is allocated for salary increases, $700,000 for the Bridge Program, and $30,000 for a new superintendent’s search. Mr. Weiss’s current contract expires at the end of the 2015 year.

The Bridge Program, developed in the fall of 2008 for children identified on the autism spectrum, is housed at the Edgartown School and serves students with special needs in three classrooms. Seven new students will enter the program next fall, according to the superintendent, raising the cost. The jump in Bridge Program cost did not elicit much debate or discussion among the committee.

The Island Strings program did. This program began as an after-school offering in 1986, with encouragement and support from the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society. It was so successful that it became part of the regular school day in 1988. Last year there were 152 elementary students in grades two through eight enrolled in the course and a cap was placed on new enrollees, since there was a shortage of teaching staff to meet the demand. Tuesday evening, the fact that by grade eight only two percent of the students first enrolled in the program were still in it was addressed.

“Are we getting the best bang for our buck?” was a repeated refrain.

Committee members also wanted to know why lessons in Chilmark have been down recently. Nancy Jephcote, the elementary string program teacher for 12 years, said that lessons offered on Monday were cancelled due to frequent Monday holidays. She said the program remains understaffed. Committee members agreed to continue the program.

The only tense exchange of the evening occurred when committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, addressing Mr. Weiss on several budget items, exclaimed that if he “were the CEO of a company and you came to me with this budget increase, you’d probably be looking for a new job.” The budget calls for an increase of nearly $1 million dollars for FY15.

Mr. Manter added that he “appreciated all the hard work you have done on this.”