In a lengthy meeting Monday night, largely dominated by fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget discussions, the Up-Island Regional School District committee heard West Tisbury school leaders outline a number of goals for the 2016-2017 school year. The most concrete action taken during the three and a half hour meeting was a vote to raise school lunch prices for students and staff members next year.
In an effort to cover costs of expanding the school lunch program, including raising the head cook’s hours to eight hours a day, adding a new part-time position, and creating a breakfast program, the committee voted 3-2 to raise the student lunch price from $2.75 to $3 and the faculty’s price from $3.75 to $4.25. Robert Lionette of Chilmark and Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury voted against the hikes.
In December, school officials presented the results of a survey of Chilmark and West Tisbury school parents and faculty intended to gauge interest in an expanded lunch and breakfast program. About 95 percent of responding West Tisbury School parents said their child currently buys lunch at the school and most were willing to see the lunch price raised to $3, but not $3.50. About 40 percent of responding parents said they would have their child participate in a school breakfast program. Chilmark numbers were similar.
In the faculty survey, 58 percent of the 50 West Tisbury respondents and 29 percent of the seven Chilmark respondents said they currently buy lunch at school. Some were willing to see the price raised to $4, and fewer for $4.25.
Also Monday, West Tisbury school leaders outlined their goals for a 2016-2017 school improvement plan. Measures include integrating science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into the school curriculum using newly adopted state frameworks, expanding the English language arts (ELA) enrichment program for advanced students, and forming a subcommittee to analyze student writing and create recommendations for the following school year. The plan included getting a new design of the school parking lot in an effort to rework the area in FY18.
West Tisbury school principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt also announced that the school received over $50,000 worth of grant money, in addition to $41,000 from the Sound Foundation for a two-year school yoga program.
The committee spent much of the meeting attempting to bridge the fault line over whether or not to pass the seventh draft of a $10.6 million FY17 spending plan. The budget, with offsets, is up $321,504 from FY16.
“We’ve put things in, we’ve taken things out…and somewhere around 98 percent of this budget is salaries and benefits and people, and I don’t see us cutting any people out of the picture right now,” Kate DeVane of West Tisbury said. That left the committee debating only a very small number of items, she said.
“I feel that it is important for us to decide as a group that we have beat this horse and move on,” she said. “This is a good budget with some really wonderful things that Donna has shown us are going to happen.”
Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea echoed a similar sentiment.
“I met with Donna and Susan and Amy and we tried to put together what we thought was the best budget for the district, keeping in mind that we want to keep the growth down,” he said. He said they made changes, cuts, and offsets based on the committee’s requests, and added that the 3.1 percent budget increase is only slightly over the 2.5 percent goal.
“It addresses what we wanted to achieve in the budget around student learning, around the school lunch program, and around the work that needs to be done in both buildings,” he said. “I think this is a good budget and a responsible one.”
Committee member Robert Lionette disagreed. “We started this meeting with some amazing stuff that’s happened and it’s incredibly exciting, but for every program that we jump into, I’d like to see something give, keeping the growth to a more moderate level,” he said. “I feel as though there are some fundamental flaws in how this budget was designed…. Perhaps we should look at things as a more moderate or incremental growth.”
He added that “if push comes to shove” he would support the budget.
Michael Marcus of West Tisbury said he felt “whiplashed” by Mr. Lionette’s stance. He said there was a lot of community support for the added programs.
“We have had these folks come in here and you’ve been wildly in support of those things all along, and then they’re not here and you’re looking at the same things that we’re looking at and you want to see if Matt can squeeze some more out of the lemon,” he said. “I’m in favor of this budget and I’m ready to move forward with this budget.”
Ultimately, the committee agreed to address the budget one last time prior to the public hearing at a meeting on Monday, February 8.