Island schools discuss shared services budget

Administrators recommend several significant personnel additions and adjustments.

All-Island School Committee members considered significant adjustments to the shared services budget during Thursday's meeting.

The Martha’s Vineyard Public School system is considering several staff changes that would meet new and continuing needs of Island students and faculty. 

In a draft projection of an FY23 level service budget discussed at an All-Island School Committee (AISC) meeting Thursday, increases over FY22 amounted to $258,970 — a 3.49 percent increase. 

Along with a 1.66 percent projected increase for salary adjustments that are currently undergoing negotiations, the final percent increase in the draft shared services budget comes to 5.15 percent. 

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said some assumptions were used to create the level service budget, including step salary increases, non-union salary adjustments, a 10 percent estimated adjustment for health insurance, and 3 percent for dental insurance. 

Additionally, D’Andrea said, a $27,668 increase to the retiree benefits line item was included in the projection, and the COVID contingency line from the prior fiscal year was reduced by $20,000, to $5,000.

Based on past cost of living adjustments for union positions not included in the 3.49 percent level services increase, a placeholder of $123,000 brings the budget to the current 5.15 percent projected increase. D’Andrea noted that the schools are currently in negotiations with the five bargaining units, so they don’t know what that number will actually be. 

Following a Medstar evaluation in 2018 of Island school health education, mental health access, and school culture, schools are considering position adjustments and additions that would bring the budget to around a 6 percent increase, based on the existing draft, although these additions are still under review.

School administrators suggested the addition of another school psychologist.

According to Hope McLeod, Island schools director of student support services, the Vineyard has had three school psychologists to share among the districts on the Island since 1990. “Our needs have changed over the years — they have increased,” McLeod said. 

Currently, one of the psychologists is stationed at the high school, one of them shares responsibilities at the Tisbury School and at up-Island schools, and another shares Oak Bluffs and Edgartown schools. 

“They continue to see the need and the desire within the schools for more support and consistency of their presence,” McLeod said.

The majority of work school psychologists do, according to McLeod, is perform assessments that determine whether a child who is being referred for special education has an area of disability. If they do, the psychologists brainstorm with a special education team to design individualized instruction for the particular student.

Over the years, Island schools have gone from 60 assessments annually to 80 or more, McLeod said.

Additionally, every three years school psychologists re-evaluate student needs and help teams decide if a child still needs special education services, or if those needs have changed. 

With another school psychologist, special education departments would be able to have more say in the child study process, and they could also provide direct support to teachers, and potentially even group direct care for students, according to McLeod.

The National Association for School Psychologists recommends one psychologist for every 500 students, so if the school system went up to four overall, they would be just below that recommended level.

Another noteworthy position change proposed by Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith was the all-Island behavioral health coordinator position. 

During the 2019–20 school year, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services hired a mental health coordinator who partnered with Island schools and essentially took on the job description recommended by Medstart in 2018.

That position was funded through Community Services, but eventually, a part-time behavioral health coordinator was hired by the school system itself.

“The original recommendation by Medstar was a 1.0 full-time equivalency position that would endure, not one that would go away,” Smith said. “We are moving in that direction.”

The final request of the evening for school committee members was the addition of a diversity, equity, and inclusion person, but committee members stressed that they want someone who will provide direct education and support for students and staff — not an administrative position.

“If you are talking about a diversity officer, I think that is definitely a human resources position,” committee member Kelly McCracken said. “We are kind of administration-heavy in this budget. There are other ways we can implement this position.”

Although McCracken said she supports the idea, she doesn’t think one person should be responsible for handling the hiring, performance evaluation, and other administrative tasks related to diversity.

“I support an educational solution to this, but not an administrative one,” McCracken said. 

A number of committee members were frustrated they didn’t receive these projections and adjustments in advance of the meeting.

D’Andrea and Smith said they would make sure committee members receive the updated budget projection and any existing or new adjustments before the next AISC meeting so they are prepared for a possible vote.