Employee sick leave, maintenance costs cause high school budget freeze

Extended employee sick leave has put a strain on the high school budget. – File photo by Michael Cummo

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School interim Principal Peg Regan announced at a school committee meeting Monday night that she and other school leaders had implemented an internal budget freeze on discretionary items. The freeze asks that teachers and administrators halt spending on anything that isn’t “absolutely necessary for education.”

A unique situation at the high school — two full-time staff members on extended sick leave to care for sick family members — largely contributed to the need for a budget freeze; in addition, the school was hit with increased maintenance costs. Funding paid sick leave and teacher replacement salaries will cost about $100,000. Sick leave is currently not funded in the operating budget.

“If we extend sick leave or give sick leave, it’s outside the purview of the budget, so it does come out of available funds or E and D [excess and deficiency funds],” Ms. Regan said. “It costs money.”

She recommended that the committee look into creating a line item in the budget to fund future sick-leave requests.

“All you need is two people to get sick, and in this case it’s two family members,” Ms. Regan said. “That’s just my recommendation. Don’t let this happen one more time, where you’re having to freeze your budget in February because somebody gets sick.”

The budget freeze means that educators must hold off on conferences and other expenses until July 1. Salaries and other contractual agreements will not be affected. It will also not affect funding requests necessary for the students’ education, Ms. Regan said.

“We do have money in the student reserve if kids need a scholarship to do a trip or event, so we’re trying to have it not penalize education or teaching, but more of the ‘I would like to do this,’ or ‘I would like to do that,’” she said. “I think it was a very wise decision to put the brakes on now and slowly look at each purchase order.”

High school finance manager Mark Friedman said the budget was “quite tight” but “doable.”

“There isn’t a lot of leeway right now for this fiscal year,” he said.

Also Monday, the school committee unanimously approved, pending approval by legal counsel, a request by teachers rallying to the aid of their colleague to donate a number of their earned sick days to one of the teachers currently on sick leave. The request gives the teacher 30 more days worth of paid sick leave. It is a request the school committee has granted before, and will take an additional $7,000 or more out of the high school operating budget.