All-Island school committee approves $5.9 million shared-services budget

By a vote of 9-2, the committee passed the budget, with the caveat that there be a deeper look at the town assessment formula.

All-Island school committee chairman Colleen McAndrews and Superintendent of schools Matt D'Andrea discussed the FY17 shared-services budget. – Photo by Cathryn McCann

Just prior to the long Thanksgiving break, the All-Island School Committee met Monday night and passed a $5.9 million fiscal year 2017 (FY17) shared-services budget, but not without some dissent from up-Island school district members.

The budget encompasses three general areas: 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 proposed budget represents a 2.35 percent increase, or approximately $136,024, over FY16, which ends on June 30, 2016. The previous increase was 7.43 percent.

The largest increases are in the salary and benefit line items for nearly all of the shared-services departments. All educational service providers (ESP) move forward a step in FY17, which includes a 5 percent step raise, 10 percent increase in health benefits, and 5 percent increase in dental benefits. Salary figures include longevity and a 1 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA). Depending on union negotiations, COLA may increase to 2 percent, at which point the budget numbers must be adjusted. Those negotiations are underway now.

The high school accounts for 20 percent of the budget. The other 80 percent is shared among the towns based on school enrollment.

Oak Bluffs will see the largest assessment increase, at 7.81 percent, or $111,778. The up-Island school district is up 7.47 percent, or $94,502. The high school is up 2.61 percent, or $14,076. Tisbury is down 2.82 percent, or $33,458, and Edgartown is down 3.76 percent, or $50,873.

The proposed town assessments reflect adjustments for a formula error made in the FY16 budget, which caused Edgartown and Tisbury to be overcharged by $30,793 and $5,773 respectively, and the up-Island school district and Oak Bluffs undercharged $15,396 and $21,170 respectively.

School officials said strongly that the budget was accurate and fair.

“We pored through this budget,” Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea said. “I feel very, very strongly that this is a budget that addresses the needs of the kids on the Island, it does it well, it’s a responsible budget, and we were able to hold the growth down to 2.35.”

The up-Island increase generated comment. “Shared services is clearly delivering an excellent, excellent program, but 7.47 percent for the up-Island district is pretty dramatic,” Kate DeVane of West Tisbury said. “We can’t go back the way we did last year, after a vote where we all voted that we couldn’t support something like this, got voted down by the all-Island, went back to our district, and got beaten up.” Last year West Tisbury said no to the school budget due to the large percentage increase, she said.

Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury proposed that schools be responsible for students from their town, regardless of where they choose to attend school. For example, he said, the up-Island school district receives about 17 students from Edgartown, but sends no students to the Edgartown School in return.

“So we have to pay for 17 more students, and we’re getting nothing in return,” he said. “The burden should be on the town where the students reside.”

In total, he said, the district takes in about 45 more students from other Island towns, and thus is financially responsible for more students.

Robert Lionette of Chilmark agreed, and said the costs should not follow the child, but rather be the responsibility of the sending town.

Mr. D’Andrea said it was an issue that prompted a study in 2010, and ultimately the committee voted to keep school appropriations based on actual school enrollment numbers, citing negligible differences. He acknowledged things may have changed since then, and agreed to reopen the issue for discussion and research.

“I’m happy to organize a forum where we can look at it again,” he said. “We can do it over the course of this year and maybe change it for next year.”

Committee members requested an earlier look at the issue.

The committee agreed to pass the budget as it was presented, but take a deeper look at the school enrollment formula in December, with the possibility of a reassessment. Nine members voted for the FY17 budget, Ms. DeVane and Mr. Manter voted against it.