Up-Island school committee approves $10.6 million FY17 budget

A 3.18 percent budget increase garnered little public comment.

The Up-Island Regional School District committee approved a $10.6 million fiscal year 2017 budget Monday night.— File photo by Janet Hefler

After more than seven drafts and countless meetings, the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) committee approved a $10.6 million fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget in just under 45 minutes Monday night.

The budget, which includes $466,427 in offsets, is up $329,136, or 3.18 percent, over FY16, which ends on June 30. Without the offsets, the total budget, about $11.1 million, amounts to an increase of 3.68 percent over FY16. As a result, total town assessments will increase by 4.08 percent, or $412,142.

Aquinnah will see an increase of $93,817 over $895,626 in FY16. Chilmark’s assessment increases by $22,445 over $2.3 million, and West Tisbury’s share rises by $295,879 over $6.8 million.

The budget increase is largely due to salary step and benefit increases, but also includes costs to expand the lunch program, add a breakfast program, provide a 2 percent cost of living increase, and move a West Tisbury English and language arts (ELA) enrichment position from part-time to full-time.

The budget also includes a $50,000 increase in the contribution to the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) debt, for a total of $200,000. Lunch program changes include an increase in the head cook’s hours to eight a day, with a corresponding salary increase, and adding a new part-time position at a cost of $16,000.

The spending plan was largely uncontested during the public hearing. West Tisbury finance committee member Greg Orcutt praised the committee for their tireless efforts.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I can honestly say two things: You really worked hard this year; you really put a lot of effort and thought into it. I’m still not happy with it … but I applaud the time you put into it.”

Mr. Orcutt said he would like to see a “more modest” budget, but understood the committee was being “squeezed from every which way.” Nonetheless, he said, the budget is an improvement over last year.

“I think this budget, this is the first one that I’ve seen in six years that actually follows the child,” UIRSD committee chairman Robert Lionette of Chilmark said. “I appreciate that move in the budget.”

Committee member Kate DeVane of West Tisbury said that every year they must find a balance between saving money and providing a good education for the students.

“I really think that sometimes when we’re worrying about the money, which we clearly are, we lose grasp of what is really important, which is quite frankly the education of each kid in the up-Island region,” she said. “I think that we’ve done a spectacular job this year of really producing a very lean budget that addresses some little things that are going to bring us from very, very good to really excellent.”

Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea also complimented the committee’s efforts.

“You guys have put a tremendous amount of work and thought and time into this budget,” he said. “You’re balancing between providing the best education and being very responsible with the taxpayers’ money, and I feel this budget reaches that goal.”

Following the public hearing, committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury voiced concerns about per-pupil costs and the school choice formula, the number of administrators, and how to best utilize excess and deficiency funds. After some discussion, the committee took no action, and voted to approve the budget, 4 to 1. Mr. Manter cast the dissenting vote.

The next up-Island school committee meeting will be on March 21.