Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) received high marks from its auditing firm on Monday afternoon during the first of three marathon meetings held by the MVRHS school committee and its Up-Island Regional School District subcommittee, a day that began at 1:30 pm and wearily ended at 8:01 pm for many.
Jennifer Cook, a certified public accountant with auditors CliftonLarsonAllen, told The Times after the meeting, “The school is doing a good job. We found only a few deficiencies, and they have plans to correct those.”
Cook told School Superintendent Matt D’Andrea that MVRHS is ahead of the curve in funding future other post-employment benefits (OPEB). OPEB, a decade-long, federally mandated plan for municipal governments and school systems, requires current spending to catch up with under- and unfunded future benefits, other than pensions, to their employees. OPEB funding requirements have strained municipal operating budgets, including school budgets, as they strive to comply.
Noting that the school has put aside $488,782 this year in spending as part of a three-year plan, in addition to spending to keep pace with current workforce OPEB benefits, D’Andrea asked, “How aggressive do we have to be? Where do we stand relative to other communities?”
“You already are ahead of most communities,” Cook said. “Your plan is what we’re looking for. Some communities haven’t begun a plan. You’re developing a funding mechanism [to catch up].”
After the meeting, Amy Tierney, chief financial officer for the high school and up-Island school district, noted that the FY 2019 budget contains $855,000 in OPEB catch-up planned and awaiting final town approval. The school OPEB bill currently stands at $26 million in total, Tierney said, adding, “We’re chipping away at it, doing the best we can.”
In other audit-related news, MVRHS will install a 2016 version of Microsoft Windows’ operating system at the end of the school year, school IT director Clifford Dorr told the school committee, addressing one of the auditor concerns. MVRHS has been using a 2003 version, which is no longer supported by Windows.
Dorr also told the committee that his department is taking several steps to harden the school’s electronic system defenses, including getting Ethical Hacking Certification from the EC Council, an organization which provides training in cybersecurity, including practices of unethical hackers.
The audit roadshow went on to brief the Up-Island Regional School District on the high school audit before heading back to MVRHS for its regular monthly meeting.
During that evening meeting, members authorized establishment of a fund for both a new track project and a fund to be used for renovating or replacing the high school, a project still on the drawing board.
They also voted to move $29,000 from the Excess and Deficiencies fund to the track fund in order to pay for $3,222 in consulting work from Gale Associates and to fund an owners project manager (OPM) to oversee initial phases of the project.
Spending the money
On Tuesday morning, the MVRHS facilities subcommittee met with Adam Turner, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), to understand the MVC process and potential involvement in the track planning.
Following the Tuesday morning meeting, MVRHS chairman Kris O’Brien said Turner explained that if the track infield were to remain grass, MVC would regard the work as maintenance, but if turf were used to replace grass, then the MVC process of submitting, plans, review and meetings, and public hearings would be triggered.
Plenty of good news
In other action on Monday night, the school committee voted to become a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, offering a basketball program initially which will be open to students who don’t play sports at varsity level, as well as physically and intellectually challenged kids.
The committee also had first readings of the school district’s updated antibias and antidiscrimination policy, with particular regard to LGBTQ students. The language, available on the district’s website, garnered praise from community activists, including Joy Robinson-Lynch and Sarah Kuh, who have worked on the policy with Richie Smith, assistant superintendent of schools. Smith said the policy meets state requirements and incorporates best practices recommended by the state.
The most upbeat moments in the meeting were a series of reports and requests by student body representatives and student organization advisors.
Junior class president Owen Engler explained a new, improved prom night plan with free taxi rides, and noted that Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) will not be offered in August as in years past at the high school. He called for a return of the August SAT test on-Island. “Losing that involves a lot of cost for financially strapped students [who would have to go off-Island for SAT testing], and students need all the SAT preparation we can get for college,” he said. SATs are considered an important measure of student capability by college admission departments.
The committee got an update on the Stand With Everyone Against Rape (SWEAR) initiative being driven by Ian Trance, Katy Morris, and Colin Henke. The students noted that they are working to provide information and awareness at the high school and in elementary and junior high grades to reinforce a culture of safety on the Island.
Students Gus Hoy and Andrew Karlinsky rolled out Give Back Day, a May 21 event in which more than 600 high school students and faculty will disperse to 42 Island locations for a cleanup event.
Gus and Andrew lobbied for additional volunteers at the meeting. “You can visit our webpage on the high school website for more information on the project … or you can volunteer right now,” Gus told a packed room that responded with appreciative laughter and applause.
The committee approved a Minnesingers request for a four-concert tour of Scotland next year, proposed by Sheila Morse and Abigail Chandler, incoming Minnesingers director.
Meanwhile, the high school will likely end its June 30 fiscal year at or perhaps fractionally under budget, finance director Mark Friedman told the meeting. Facilities manager Mike Taus noted that the new greenhouse frame has been completed. “You’ll see panels beginning to be installed this week,” he said. The greenhouse is located behind the former MVTV offices next to the high school.
The committee also gave a shout-out to Eric Adams, who works on substance abuse with young people in a variety of settings, including this year when he established a weekly mentoring session at the high school.