School committee shows support for ferry tax

Though some board members say more information is needed.

The All Island School Committee moved quickly through a 15-item agenda during its two-hour session, but paused to discuss a proposal by Island resident Chuck Hodgkinson to underwrite currently unfunded pension and benefits packages for employees who will retire in the future.

Mr. Hodgkinson has been making the rounds of town boards of selectmen and other groups to advance a plan to apply surcharges to Steamship Authority fees. His calculations indicate a 20-year surcharge program would catch up on pension liabilities and fund a proposed expansion of the high school.

Other Post-Employment Benefits, Known as OPEB, are obligations to future retirees and have been a Damoclean sword hanging over the Commonwealth’s cities and towns since the 1988 state Legislature mandated plans for funding the future benefits.

Mr. Hodgkinson has requested a show of support for his plan from Island towns. The school voted 6-2 with three abstentions to acknowledge Mr. Hodgkinson’s ongoing effort. School board

member Kate DeVane said “ I like the theme of this. The Island needs the support of our visitors but we should have a larger Island-wide discussion on this, rather than Chuck having to present to individual groups (of stakeholders).

Board member Colleen McAndrews, who abstained, agreed more information is needed. “I’d have to vote no on this only because I don’t know enough about it. I agree with Kate’s idea,” she said.

According to comments at the meeting, to date the town of Chilmark has supported the effort, West Tisbury has taken no action and Oak Bluffs has declined to support the effort.

The Steamship Authority has balked at the idea.

In other news, superintendent Matthew D’Andrea, cautioning that the numbers he presented were an early look, presented a $956,300 spending plan for central administration for fiscal 2019 up a little more than $45,000 from from the current budget. Mr. D’Andrea said that the amount and degree of shared services would remain unchanged under the 2019 operating plan.

Employee headcount would remain virtually unchanged. The school district is streamlining and extending its special education and needs programs but has reallocated resources and has grant money available to accomplish its goals, Mr. D’Andrea said during his budget review.

During the same meeting, Mr. D’Andrea received a six-year contract extension.

Ms. DeVane announced that her schedule will force her to step down from her liaison post with the Cape Cod Collaborative, a 19-member consortium of Cape and Islands school districts. “It’s a wonderful experience. I learned so much. You just get the 2:30 boat off and the 7 o’clock boat back,” she said, lobbying for a volunteer to replace her.

The school also acknowledged the work of member Michael Hoyt on the Oak Bluffs school committee. Mr. Hoyt is stepping down this week from the Oak Bluffs post. The All Island School Committee will also consider plans to fill in or replace Michael Marcus as chairman. Mr. Marcus told the group he will be off-Island between January and mid-March. “I can attend meetings by phone but whether you want an interim chairman or to replace me is your call and I’m OK with whatever that is,” he said.

The board also approved a motion to allow an employee to donate sick time to another employee and agreed to reschedule training by the Massachusetts Association of School Districts until December.