MVRHS must cut more than $1 million to level-fund budget

School seeks to keep next year’s budget in line with current fiscal year.

MVRHS will have to make cuts in order to level-fund its budget. —Gabrielle Mannino

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) is seeking to trim more than $1 million from next fiscal year’s spending plan to keep costs in line with the current fiscal year budget. Officials are looking at areas in their budget that can be cut while still providing the same level of education and services to students. Programming is one aspect of the budget officials are looking into.

Currently, the authorized expense budget for the high school is approximately $22 million.

In order to achieve a level-funded budget, MVRHS finance manager Mark Friedman told The Times, the school must look at expense items that can be reduced or eliminated. 

“The level-funded part of this is basically an exercise to try and come up with areas that can be cut so the budget doesn’t grow at all from this fiscal year to the next,” Friedman said.

But the school has contractual obligations that require funding in the long term, and those debts and other mandatory budget requirements still need to be funded.

Friedman gave an example of the collective bargaining agreements that are already scheduled to increase next year, and said that the school needs to trim in other areas of the budget in order to accommodate those expenditures without raising the budget.

“In order to keep the budget from growing, given that we have contractual obligations in some places, that is the part where we need to start looking at how we do that. We worked very hard to fine-tune those budgets — to cut deeper means to potentially look at programming and other aspects of our expenses,” Friedman said.

Much of the school’s debt currently is long-term, and Friedman said those recurring annual payments cannot be deferred.

One difficulty with creating a level-funded budget for the next fiscal year is that revenues are taken into account when looking at the overall operating budget. Towns, which contribute to the regional budget, are looking at having less revenue coming from things like meal and room taxes.

“The context for this entire situation is that, with the economy being affected so severely right now, towns and schools are all waiting to see what will happen to projected revenues,” Friedman said.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has projected that the commonwealth will see an approximately $6 billion shortfall in state tax revenues for next fiscal year. This does not bode well for municipalities, or for regional school districts that receive all of their budget from taxpayers. 

Friedman said that revenue projections for next year are unclear because of the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic in certain communities; this makes it difficult for the school to know exactly how much to cut, and from where.

“One of the most challenging parts of this level-funded budget is that the ability to project revenues is almost entirely predicated on when this pandemic ends,” Friedman said.

At a school committee meeting Monday, May 18, officials accepted the plan to level-fund next fiscal year’s budget, but did so with disquiet.

“Due to the pandemic, we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation,” chair of the school committee Kim Kirk said. “As we move through this, it is with a heavy heart.”

Chilmark finance committee chair Rob Hannemann told The Times that he thinks both the high school and the Up-Island regional school district have been taking the crisis seriously and proactively, but said that a level-funded budget might not be enough to meet the various financial concerns brought upon by unexpected expense increases and ongoing contractual obligations.

“I think they really grabbed the bull by the horns, but we will see if it is enough. It’s difficult to know,” Hannemann said.

 

8 COMMENTS

  1. How about the people and owners of High Valued Martha’s Vineyard properties making a “contribution” to help the educational needs of the MVRHS. A worthy cause for education (like they do for PBS). Give the students an opportunity to learn and develop. This is an “Essential Industry”.

    • They already do, it’s called real estate taxes that pay for services (like the school) that they don’t use more than a few weeks of the year if at all. Maybe a VAT tax on spending so everyone has the opportunity make a “contribution”.

  2. Just make sure you go first if you are going to decide how other people should spend their money.

  3. Harland is right. Education is essential — but so essential that it would be risky to fund schools with voluntary contributions, as he suggests.
    In Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and Edgartown, as in most of America, the town public K-8 schools are supported by levying property taxes, applying the same tax rate to all properties within the town. The more valuable the property, the higher the tax. This way the revenue is predictable, and the process is fair.
    The regional high school district operates on a different premise, employing what amounts to a tax on children. The six towns receive an assessment from the regional district each year based on the October First head count. And since families with children usually can’t afford high-end houses, the towns with lower property values, Tisbury and Oak bluffs, have the most children and get the biggest assessments from the high school – and, in consequence, the biggest stress on the rest of their budgets, and the highest tax rates.
    Why is it okay that the owner of a $3,5000,000 dollar house in Chilmark pays the same amount of taxes for the high school as the owner of a $500,000 home in Oak Bluffs?
    The town manager in Edgartown, where the tax rate was recently actually reduced, due primarily to the enormous growth in property values, recently led a walkout of all Edgartown representatives at a meeting where the question of high school funding was on the table. How is that okay?
    In most ways MVRHS is indeed a regional school. MVRHS teams often have jerseys sporting the word FAMILY. The football team used to have practice shirts with TEAM in huge letters and ME in tiny letters underneath. At a concert of the Minnesingers or a school play in the Performing Arts Center there is a palpable whole-Island feeling. The expression, “We are all in this together,” seems to apply to almost every aspect of the regional high school.
    Not the finances.
    Harland suggests voluntary contributions from owners of mega-mansions and other high-end properties in response to a shortfall in one annual budget. Why not just apply a single tax rate for the high school to all Island properties in order to fund this and future regional schools? Our Island has enormous property wealth which can support investment in education. Not just the kids coming along, but each town, and all facets of our winter and summer populations will benefit. Then the expression, “We are all in this together,” might be a little more honest.

    • Every regional school in the State utilizes a per student assessment method rather than a regional tax rate; why should it be any different on MV? Oak Bluffs will vote for a $10M new town hall this year while the other Towns drastically slash their budgets. Remember this when they ask Edgartown and Chilmark to subsidize there school assessment in the coming years. Why should the Edgartown tax payers indirectly foot the bill?

    • peter– thank you for your thoughtful comment. you are “spot on” , as they say. Although we cross paths infrequently these days, you still have my total respect.
      Please continue to advocate for the future.
      Yup, I am THAT Don.
      be well, stay safe. You are a treasure.

  4. As Arthur posted, maybe you should worry about spending your own money before that of others. It’s highly likely that the $3.5mm home you used in your example is a seasonal property owner and is already dramatically subsidizing the tax base of the island for services they do not use. Second, the school’s budget is already bloated with the cost of education on island rivaling many private / boarding schools, maybe we focus on bringing those costs in lines with other public school systems in the state. Third and lastly, if you advocate for a single rate tax to fund education, why not make it for those just utilizing the services so those consuming the service are directly funding it versus those that have no stake in the game.

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