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.