All-Island school committee to continue discussion about FY16 shared-services budget error

A recent meeting did not yield agreement on how to rectify a miscalculation.

Photo by Cathryn McCann

On Thursday, Oct. 29, the all-Island school committee revisited the fiscal year (FY) 2016 shared-services budget in order to explore how best to rectify a calculation error that resulted in two Island schools being undercharged and two overcharged. Despite the lengthy discussion, the committee could not agree on how to proceed.

The shared-services budget encompasses three general areas, including the superintendent’s office (superintendent, secretaries, business administrator, assistant superintendent, curriculum department, director of student services), shared programs (Bridge, Project Headway, and social skills), and other direct services (physical and occupational therapy, Strings program, speech and language department).

The high school accounts for 20 percent of the budget, and the other 80 percent is shared among the public school budgets, based on school enrollment. When the FY16 budget was created, the enrollment percentage formula was entered incorrectly. As a result, Edgartown and Tisbury were overcharged by $30,793 and $5,773 respectively, for a total of $36,566. The up-Island school district was undercharged $15,396 and Oak Bluffs $21,170 for the same total of $36,566.

For FY16, superintendent of schools Matt D’Andrea proposed taking the surplus from the health insurance budget — money available due to staff declining insurance coverage — and use it to make up the shortfall. Neither Edgartown or Tisbury would be overcharged, leaving $36,566 to be covered, and Up-Island and Oak Bluffs would not be responsible for the correct appropriation — meaning they would remain undercharged for FY16, leaving another $36,566 to be covered. A total of $73,132 would be taken from the health insurance line to cover the mistake until FY17, when the correct amounts would be appropriated, including what the undercharged schools owe. Ultimately, all schools would pay the correct amount, but not on the original timeline.

Committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury disagreed with the strategy and advocated manually making adjustments to reflect each school’s correct assessment in the budget lines.

“We’ve adjusted the books to make it come out right and look good,” he said. “But going forward, they’re going to make up that deficit next year because we’re not reducing the actual expenditures. For Up-Island, we’re going to have that $15,000 at the starting date plus whatever increases we have. You’ve got it figured out right, but it’s a domino effect.”

Mr. D’Andrea pointed out it would just appear that it’s an extra charge, but in reality, it would even out, because the school was undercharged in FY16.

Mr. Manter didn’t budge. “I still think the two towns that didn’t pay enough should pay their share,” he said. Or, he said, the committee should vote to change the superintendent’s budget to reflect the assessment figures the towns actually paid, so the error would not roll over to FY17.

Committee chair Colleen McAndrews agreed. “It makes sense to fix the problem and move forward, and be very clear about how we fixed the problem,” she said.

Mr. D’Andrea acknowledged that it was a worthwhile idea not to impact FY17 with a mistake made in the FY16 budget, and said he would break down the budget to reflect each proposed formula for correcting the mistake to present at the next meeting for more conversation.

The discussion over the second draft of the FY17 shared-services budget was no simpler. Several committee members requested a detailed breakdown of the budget lines, including each staff position and salary, and the number of students served by that position. “Otherwise it’s impossible to understand what’s going on,” Up-Island representative Kate DeVane said.

For example, the budget line for “psychologists’ salaries” is $280,583. A breakdown would include each psychologist, which school they serve, how many students they serve, and what each psychologist is paid.

Not every member felt a detailed account was necessary.

“I disagree in asking for more detail on every department,” Oak Bluffs representative Lisa Reagan said. “I look at this budget, and it’s already tiny print and five pages and provides quite a bit of detail.” She said breaking everything down into more detail could prolong the budget process, and that the opportunity already existed for getting more details by asking questions at the meeting.

Mr. D’Andrea said he would have a more detailed budget, with a list of staff and salaries, emailed out prior to the next meeting, so the committee can discuss each position and the number of students served in relation to the budget.

In other business, the committee approved the request from Martha’s Vineyard Adult and Community Education program (ACE MV) that the superintendent’s office serve as the fiscal agent under a three-year contract, pending an annual budget presentation and town appropriation. That’s a change from the previous one-year contract, based on a suggestion by Mr. Manter, who said the extended timeline allows for better long-term planning. ACE MV Executive Director Sam Hart agreed and said the three-year contract would help with the program’s strategic planning.

Mr. D’Andrea told the committee he is participating in a “new superintendent induction program,” along with 25 other new superintendents across the state. The program will focus on helping new superintendents develop a comprehensive strategic plan for their school districts. That involves gaining pertinent information about the district, including studies and test data, spending time visiting schools and principals, interviewing stakeholders, and reviewing initiatives of the district. Mr. D’Andrea said by the end of January he will have created a “superintendent’s entry plan,” and a full strategic plan will be completed by June. He said he will share progress with all Island school committees in the interim.

Mr. D’Andrea gave an update on the progress of school facility repairs, mainly at the high school. He said he is still waiting on a comprehensive school improvement plan that will include the HVAC, building envelope, and space-needs studies, which is being compiled by an engineering firm. He said public forums and discussions will be held in the coming months. “One of my goals is to improve our work around the facilities, not just here, but Island-wide,” he said. The committee members agreed, many presenting a laundry list of necessary repairs at each Island school.