Edgartown selectmen turn down school money request

Selectmen said school officials must find $47,000 in their existing budget for a new HVAC system control, and new K-2 reading series.

Edgartown School requested more than $47,000 from the town of Edgartown. — Photo by Monica Busch

The Edgartown school committee, led by Edgartown School principal John Stevens, approached town selectmen Monday evening with money requests for items not included in the current school budget. Selectmen advised the school to budget better, and turned down the requests for a new HVAC control system and a new reading program.

The school will purchase both items and attempt to find money within its existing budget. Any shortfall will appear as a money request on a special town meeting warrant.

Mr. Stevens said the school needed a new electronic control system for the school’s heating and cooling system. The 12-year-old electronic control system that the school currently has, called a Johnson system, started to fail midway through last winter, he said. Some rooms were too hot, some were too cold, and the system had to be frequently reset. The replacement would cost approximately $11,000.

The second request was for a K-2 Pearson Reading Street curriculum series. The current curriculum is 10 years old, Mr. Stevens told selectmen, and such programs need to be replaced and updated. Teachers met during later winter and early spring to decide which program would best suit the needs of the school and the students. Mr. Stevens said the series costs over $36,000.

“The school’s budget does not allocate funds to purchase these two items,” Mr. Stevens told selectmen.

“I have a problem with the fact that you’ve known about this with ample time to insert these on the town warrant,” selectman Margaret Serpa said. “Right now we have no way of accommodating those items. The finance committee does not have a reserve budget which would adequately fund those requests.”

Ms. Serpa suggested the school make the purchase if they want to and try to make up the cost within the next year.

“Another thing, you frequently come in like this to us,” said Ms. Serpa, former Dukes County treasurer. “I think that maybe in the next budget season, you need to really take a look at some of these things so that they are included in the budget.”

Mr. Stevens said that he could not anticipate that the Johnson system would fail, and that when it did, time was not in his favor. The deadline for warrant articles had already passed.

“But you’re absolutely right about the reading curriculum,” Mr. Stevens said.

“I thought Margaret’s idea was practical,” selectman Art Smadbeck said. “Take care of what you have to take care of.”

Mr. Stevens said that the only large-expenditure item he could foresee in the coming years is an updated math curriculum in fiscal year 2017.

“I’m reluctant to build it into the budget and the budget cycle, because you inflate the budget, only temporarily. I don’t want to do that, I want to keep the budget as accurate as possible from year to year,” Mr. Stevens said to selectmen.

“I understand that, but now that you know that, you can prepare your article and probably have a better price,” said Ms. Serpa.

“And the deadlines are the same time every year,” town administrator Pam Dolby said. “There’s no surprise.”

Mr. Stevens told selectmen that the school had considered using school-choice funds for the purchases, but there isn’t enough to go around.

“If you remember, it might have been four or five years ago, when the school committee recommended that the school-choice level remain at $100,000 or more, because as you know that’s our contingency fund, our emergency fund.”

Mr. Stevens said the school-choice fund is well below that level right now, and sits at about $25,000.

“We really need that kind of value in our school-choice fund to pay for emergencies or unexpected expenditures,” Mr. Stevens said.